Law Requires Defibrillators in NJ Schools

By Brenda Flanagan

“It wasn’t easy. It absolutely was the scariest day of my life,” said Steven Papa.

And Papa will never forget what happened during track practice at Pascack Hills High School last spring. Anthony Cortezzo collapsed on the field.

“I like ran the two laps, and then I walked over to do my stretches and lost consciousness then,” Cortezzo said.

His heart stopped. Coaches administered CPR, while Papa grabbed the portable AED — a defibrillator. He put the patches on Cortezzo’s chest and the machine took over.

Cortezzo’s heart began to beat. Papa recalls watching the ambulance pull away. A coach walked over.

“And he says, ‘Hey, Pap. I think you just saved that kid’s life.’ And that’s when the emotions kind of set in. Didn’t want to start crying like a baby at that point, you know,” he said.

“And they saved my son’s life, and they’ll be my heroes for the rest of my life,” said Cortezzo’s mom Patti.

“Most likely I wouldn’t be talking to you now if there wasn’t an AED at Pascack Hills,” Cortezzo said.

Fortunately for Cortezzo, Pascack Valley already had several AEDs says Superintendent Erik Gundersen.

“We were ahead of the curve. We’ve had these in place for probably the last five to seven years,” Gundersen said. “We’ve increased the number of AEDs dramatically now in anticipation of the new law.”

That law’s named for Janet Zilinski who died in 2006, when her heart stopped after cheerleading practice.

Every school in New Jersey must be outfitted with AEDs and staff trained to use them, by Sept. 1. For many districts, it meant significant expense.

West Milford spent $30,000.

“So this past school year, we did purchase an additional 11 AED devices. Some of the other stuff that went into that planning is, also, where you’re going to locate and put your device,” said West Milford School District Supervisor of Special Services Elizabeth McQuaid.

How many units does a district need? That depends. For example, here’s a middle school gym. AED manufacturers recommend locating a unit within 90 seconds of every school gym, and here it is, on the wall.

Schools also bought portables, that staff can bring to athletic practices and events. When the cross-country team goes out running for practice, they’ll buddy up, so no one’s alone.

“So that God forbid anything happens whether a student gets hurt from running, has a broken leg or something like that. Or their heart stops, that we can get help back from the school district very quickly,” said Gundersen.

It saves lives.

“Because they gave me back my baby,” Patti Cortezzo said.

Cortezzo’s back in training this semester for football.