Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) is a condition where the heartbeat stops abruptly and unexpectedly and is usually caused by ventricular fibrillation (VF), an abnormality in the heart’s electrical system. If a combination of CPR and the use of an Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) is used in the first few minutes, the victim has more than a 90% chance of survival. Most victims of SCA are young teens who are very active and have no known medical issues.
I first heard of Sudden Cardiac Arrest in August 2006 when Janet Zilinski, a daughter and sister of my brother’s football coach and teammate died on August 10, 2006 from SCA while at cheerleading practice. Janet was only 11 years old and was so excited to be starting middle school in a few short weeks. Janet had an ankle injury and hadn’t been running laps at practice but on this fateful night she decided to go because her ankle felt better. While running the one lap with her teammates, she told a friend that she was tired and was going to lie down. As soon as she laid down, she went unconscious and her heartbeat stopped. Two of Janet’s friends ran up to her mom, Karen, and said that Janet was laying down. Karen didn’t think too much of it until the girls said “Janet isn’t breathing”. Luckily, a pediatric trauma nurse was onsite and began preforming CPR. Every time the CPR would stop, Janet’s heartbeat would stop. Janet’s father, Jim, was coaching our brothers’ team and was at their practice when somebody told him that there was an emergency with Janna (which is what her family called her) and he needed to come. While being rushed to the hospital, CPR was continuously en route to the hospital.
As the Zilinskis arrived to the hospital, Janet was stable and was able to talk to her parents. The doctors told her parents that she would be okay and they sighed a breath of relief. Shortly after receiving this great news, Janet went into cardiac arrest. The doctors tried to save her but tragically couldn’t. After countless tests were done, it was discovered that Janet was born with an undetectable genetic heart condition. Janet left behind two heartbroken parents, a little brother who she loved more than anything in this world, and tons of grieving friends and family.
After Janet’s tragic passing, my family and the Zilinskis became closer and we began helping them raise awareness about Sudden Cardiac Arrest. Jim and Karen founded The Janet Fund shortly after their daughter’s death and began working on ‘Janet’s Law’ – which requires all public and private New Jersey K-12 schools to have an AED on site, at least five school employees to be certified in CPR/AED, an emergency action plan for a sudden cardiac event, the AED to be located in an accessible, unlocked location (such as outside the school gym) with appropriate signage above the unit, signs throughout the school directing people to the AED and the AED must be accessible after school hours for school athletic events and practices. Janet’s Law was passed and became effective on September 1, 2014. In the 2 years that Janet’s Law has been in effect, so many teenagers collapsed at sporting events and practices and were saved by an AED.
In the years that I’ve been involved with the Janet Fund, I helped sell bracelets, raise awareness, wrap baskets for the annual fundraiser, and I even had the honor of photographing the 2014 and 2015 fundraiser event. It’s a great feeling knowing that I helped get a law signed into event and raise awareness about a serious health condition. I know that Jim, Karen, and Jimmy, Janet’s younger brother, will always have broken hearts but they’re doing great in keeping their beautiful daughter and sister's legacy alive.
To learn more about The Janet Fund and what the Zilinski Family is doing for SCA, please visit www.JanetZilinski.org.