This Philly Activist Wants More Kids to Get Their Hearts Checked

After his son died of sudden cardiac arrest, 2017 Be Well Philly Health Hero Darren Sudman could have crumpled. Instead, he's used his story to save other kids' lives.

darren sudman

Darren Sudman, founder of the nonprofit Simon’s Heart, was our 2017 Be Well Philly Health Hero. / Graphic by Meredith Getzfread

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be chatting with some of our past Be Well Philly Health Heroes to give you a glimpse of the people who are helping Philadelphians live healthier lives. Got your own Health Hero to nominate for this year? Do so here.

Name: Darren Sudman

Role: Co-founder of Simon’s Heart, a nonprofit that raises awareness about the conditions leading to sudden cardiac arrest and death in children, and GotAED, a crowdfunding site dedicated to placing AED devices in school and other locations where kids learn and play.

What motivated you to create Simon’s Heart?

We started Simon’s Heart following the sudden and unexpected death of our seemingly healthy baby, Simon. (Read more of the story here.) We wanted to make sure that no other parent would lose a child to a detectable and treatable heart condition.

Has running Simon’s Fund inspired you to live a healthier life?

Simon’s death and the creation of Simon’s Heart has opened my eyes to the challenges of heart health. I’ve always been on a statin. High cholesterol runs in my family. However, I didn’t realize that sudden cardiac arrest was a kid thing. I never knew that children could just collapse and die from an undetected heart condition. I always thought sudden cardiac arrest happened after a lifetime of poor food choices or just really bad genes. It is remarkable what we call on our hearts to do every day. They’ll beat more than 2 billion times in our lifetime, and we [rarely] get them checked? How would our cars fare if we ran them constantly and didn’t get them checked?

How has winning the Health Hero Challenge helped you further reach those in need?

Being named a Be Well Philly Health Hero exposed our cause and mission to a broader audience. That is the No. 1 objective of any organization — to raise awareness. Opportunities like this are really priceless.

How did you use the money from winning the Health Hero Challenge?

In September of 2017, we had hired Samantha Krouse to run GotAED [our crowdfunding site that gets AED devices into more locations]. We were hoping that I’d win, so we could use those funds to underwrite her position. As a result of having Samantha on board, the site has successfully yielded more than 40 campaigns in 22 different states!

What do you have in the pipeline now?

We continue to provide free heart screenings, pass along data to researchers, and distribute AED devices through our crowdfunding site, GotAED. However, this summer, we’re also launching the CPR Jukebox. We’ll be visiting festivals and concerts and providing kids and families with a quick education on chest compressions set to music. It’s a fun way to learn a lifesaving skill.

What is a misconception you think people have about what it means to be healthy/what they need to do to be healthy?

We overcomplicate the topic of health. We obsess about labels and carbs and organic products. However, we fail to recognize the obvious. I think the car analogy works here, too. We only put one kind of gas in the car because that what it needs to run. That’s not how we treat our bodies.

What advice would you give to those looking to make a healthier shift in their lifestyle?

Move around a little. Eat junk in moderation. Listen to your heart; fainting during or right after exercise could suggest an underlying heart condition. Also, if a family member under the age of 50 dies suddenly and unexpectedly, get your heart checked.

What advice would you give to to your fellow Health Heroes — those looking to help others make a healthier shift in their lifestyles?

Take baby steps. Extremes never work. They are not sustainable. Don’t compare yourself to the hottest and most fit person around. Find something that works for you.

Know someone who deserves to join Sudman in the ranks of Be Well Philly Health Heroes? Nominate them here.

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