Reprinted with permission for the American Red Cross- Greater NY Region
By: Anita Salzberg
American Red Cross
Greater New York Region
Much of Harvey Weisenberg’s time is spent on the floor of the New York State Assembly, where he has represented Long Island’s 20th District for more than two decades. Yet on weekends, the life-long resident of Long Beach enjoys coming home and taking his wife Ellen out for quiet lunches.
Yet expectations quickly changed when the couple went to La Piazza, on Old Country Road in Plainview, Jan. 7. A woman at a nearby table suddenly began to choke. Within moments, she stopped breathing and her face started to turn blue. Her husband grabbed her around the waist to try to dislodge whatever had stuck in her throat.
Weisenberg, however, knew that the correct position from which to do abdominal thrusts was not around the waist, but higher up. He rushed over. “Let me help,” he said.
“The wife was obviously panicking a little,” Weisenberg said. “I told her to relax. I did one abdominal thrust and then a second. Out came a piece of bread.”
The grateful couple offered to buy the Weisenbergs dessert, but they said no thanks were necessary.
“There’s no greater feeling than to be able to help someone who is in distress,” the assemblyman said.
In a “small world” moment, another diner, who had watched the entire episode, happened to have worked with Weisenberg at a beach club 50 years ago. The man came up to Weisenberg and exclaimed, “You’re still saving lives!”
A history of lifesaving
As a lifeguard at various venues across Long Island for more than 50 years, Weisenberg has rescued numerous people who were floundering in the water.
And once, in the 1960s, while serving as a police officer for the City of Long Beach, Weisenberg used artificial respiration to save a young girl who was having convulsions and stopped breathing.
It was a short step from personally saving lives to introducing legislation in New York State to help others to save lives.
In 2000, Weisenberg sponsored a bill making it mandatory for public schools in New York State to have defibrillators on premises. The impetus to introduce this legislation came about after a tragic incident that March.
At a lacrosse game in Northport, 14-year-old Louis Acompora, a goalie who was wearing full protective gear, was hit in the chest by a ball. The impact caused Acompora’s heart to go into ventricular fibrillation (VF)—a lethal, abnormal heart rhythm.
Despite being surrounded by teammates, coaches and others who knew CPR and who tried to revive him, Acompora died on the field. EMTs arrived with an automated external defibrillator (AED) in 12 minutes … but it was 12 minutes too late. Often, defibrillation is the only method to halt ventricular fibrillation.
Sometime after reading media accounts of the death, Weisenberg contacted the parents, Karen and John Acompora. They had started a foundation dedicated to preventing sudden cardiac death of teens and kids through education and access to AEDs.
Weisenberg wanted to do whatever he could to help. Not only did he introduce the bill mandating defibrillators in public schools (it passed in 2002), he went on to sponsor legislation requiring defibrillators in health clubs, at sporting events and in buildings occupied by 1,000 people or more in New York State.
Since those bills went into effect, more than 60 people across New York State have been saved in schools alone because an AED was available, according to the Louis Acompora Memorial Foundation.
“Everyone is a potential life saver.”
Weisenberg says, “I’m aware of how you can be in the right place and the right time and make a difference. Everyone is a potential life saver. I’m an avid supporter of the Red Cross and its classes—everyone should get trained.”