Janet’s Law, legislation that would require every public and private school in New Jersey to have at least one Automated External Defibrillator (AED), recently passed the New Jersey Senate and Assembly unanimously after years of work by Karen and Jim Zilinski. The couple’s daughter, Janet Zilinski, died in August 2006 after suffering sudden cardiac arrest at the age of 11. Karen Zilinski told NJ Today Senior Correspondent Desirée Taylor about the law, how it came to pass and why it’s important for AEDs to be at every school.
Zilinski said she and her husband began working on Janet’s Law five and a half years ago. “We started with a very broad bill and after kind of coming upon some hurdles and the economy really being what it was, we rewrote the bill recently and focused purely on the schools and felt like that’s a place where our children spend the majority of their times and are participating in sports events there,” she said. “So we focused on that and we rewrote the bill so that it covers having an AED in the schools, having an emergency action plan, having trained responders.”
With help from Assemblyman Jon Bramnick and Sens. Robert Singer and Joe Vitale, Zilinski said the bill got momentum. She and her husband also testified in front of multiple committees at the State House to garner support.
“The last committee we testified in front of was the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. And that was pretty much the ‘Aha! moment’ when we felt that they got it. That they really understood the importance of the law,” Zilinski said. “We passed all committees and the full Assembly and full Senate with unanimous support. So it was quite a moment. It was pretty awesome.”
Zilinski said the entire process was emotional and testifying was difficult. She said they were fortunate to have teens who were saved with AEDs testify to show that many times young people have undetected heart conditions that don’t become known until they collapse.
Having AEDs readily available can save lives. “For every minute that an AED — Automated External Defibrillator — is delayed, your survival chances decrease by 10 percent,” Zilinski explained.
She said the devices are very user friendly, providing both spoken and written instructions to guide people through the process of use. “They are so easy to use. I think a lot of it is the fear of the unknown. You don’t know what the machine does, you don’t know what it’s going to say, you don’t know if you’re going to hurt the person,” Zilinski said. “But the fact of the matter is, the person is not going to live if you don’t do anything.”
Part of Janet’s Law references the Good Samaritan Law, which has a provision saying an individual who helps another will not be liable under the law.
Zilinski said having an AED available is critical, but parents should also be aware of what’s going on. “Parents should watch their kids at practice, should ask questions — if there’s an AED, if the coaches know CPR,” she said. “There’s so many important things we learned throughout this process.”
Many children and adults have been saved with AEDs. “There was a father who was saved a couple months ago that was going to his daughter’s basketball game and he collapsed and was saved with the school’s AED,” she said.
Zilinski said she believes the legislation will save lives by ensuring AEDs are available with proper signage showing people where they are. “We feel that Janet’s Law is going to make a big difference here and save a lot of lives,” she said.