Beth El Man Saved By Defibulator During Shul

| September 25, 2009

It was a beautiful Monday morning. The sun was shining and Steve Silverman sat in his office, talking on the phone with the BALTIMORE JEWISH TIMES.

This year, he said, the essence and meaning of the High Holidays would resonate a little more with him than usual. “Life is fleeting,” said Mr. Silverman, a divorce attorney.

It was almost two weeks ago that Mr. Silverman, 61, was attending Shabbat services at Beth El Congregation and went into cardiac arrest while standing on the bimah. Fortunately, the Pikesville synagogue owns three automated external defibrillators (AEDs), portable machines that administer electric shock to someone experiencing cardiac arrest. It ultimately saved Mr. Silverman’s life.

The story has a happy ending but comes with a message, said Gilbert Kleiner, Beth El’s executive director. Institutions must always have AEDs on hand, with trained personnel who can react immediately, he said.

On that particular Saturday morning, Mr. Silverman, Beth El’s first vice president, was serving as the gabbai, the honorary synagogue member who coordinates services. The synagogue had a double-b’nai mitzvah and a baby-naming ceremony that morning and the first aliyah had just been called up to the bimah.

Around that time, Mr. Silverman recalled leaning over to Art Wien, director of Beth El’s b’nai mitzvah program, saying, “I’m in trouble.” After that, he said he has no recollection of anything until hours later when he woke up in a hospital.

But congregants in the main sanctuary said they saw Mr. Silverman stumble and fall to the floor.

“I saw Mr. Silverman’s body position didn’t look right. I walked briskly to [the bimah] and heard the sound he was making. It was very serious,” said Len Newman, an emergency medical technician who volunteers for the Burtonsville Volunteer Fire Dept. Mr. Newman, a Silver Spring resident and member of Temple Oseh Shalom in Laurel, had arrived at Beth El only minutes earlier, for the baby-naming.

Mr. Kleiner said he had stepped out of the sanctuary minutes earlier. A congregant raced to find him, and within three minutes from the time Mr. Silverman fell, Mr. Kleiner ran in with an AED. Mr. Newman, who was giving CPR to Mr. Silverman, administered the defibrillator.

It took about 11 1/2 minutes from the time Mr. Silverman collapsed until an ambulance arrived and EMTs administered intravenous drugs and hooked him up to a heart monitor. But it was the congregation’s defibrillator that likely saved Mr. Silverman’s life, according to Mr. Newman.

“Every one-minute delay reduces the chance of survival between 7 and 10 percent,’ said Dr. Eli Goldstein, chief of preventative medicine and wellness at Good Samaritan Hospital and AED program director of Project Ezra. The latter is a non-profit group that provides AEDs at low costs, oversees product maintenance and offers free training to organizations’ personnel. The group also provides recertification classes.

Beth El purchased its three AEDs from Project Ezra. All synagogues and day schools in the Baltimore metropolitan area have at least one defibrillator, according to Dr. Goldstein.

Mr. Kleiner said he makes sure that those who use the AEDs at Beth El get recertified every two years.

“The hardest part is getting people to retrain,” said Dr. Goldstein. “It would be tragic if [an institution] had a defibrillator on the shelf and no one knew how to use it.”

Mr. Silverman said doctors were not 100 percent certain what caused his cardiac arrest. They said a piece of plaque had broken off from an artery that might have caused the heart to seize. They also said the fact that he was on medication for arterial fibrillation, an abnormal irregular heart rhythm, may have played a role. Mr. Silverman received an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator.

Mr. Kleiner, who is president of the North American Association of Synagogue Executives, recently sent an e-mail to NAASE members, encouraging them to purchase AEDs and train staff.

For this High Holiday season, Mr. Silverman said he will be particularly reflective. “One of the images brought home on the holidays is the picture of God as a shepherd,” he said. “In my mind, I keep going back that I am one of the sheep and God took a look and said, ‘Maybe this is the time to scare the hell out of him, not the time for him to die.’”

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Category: Synagogue/Jewish Security