This Philly Nonprofit Founder Wants To Prevent Sudden Cardiac Arrest in Kids
Meet Christy Silva, one of our Health Hero Challenge semi-finalists.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be chatting with our semifinalists in the 2020 Be Well Philly Health Hero Challenge brought to you by Independence Blue Cross to give you a glimpse of the people who are helping Philadelphians live healthier lives. Vote to help decide which of these 10 semi-finalists become one of three finalists — and get a sizable donation to a charity of their choice — here. Remember, you can vote once a day until October 1st!
Name: Christy Silva
Role: Co-founder of Aidan’s Heart Foundation, a nonprofit committed to providing awareness, education, and support to the communities of the southeast Pennsylvania region and its surrounding area to create heart-safe communities for youth regarding the prevention of, or response to, tragic instances of Sudden Cardiac Arrest.
What motivates you to try to make Philadelphia a healthier place?
My motivation for wanting to make Greater Philadelphia a healthier place actually comes from a tragedy in my family. In September of 2010, my seven-year-old son Aidan, who had no prior health conditions, died without warning from sudden cardiac arrest, or SCA. I had never even heard of SCA prior to his death. As I struggled with my grief and tried to understand why my seemingly healthy child collapsed one sunny Saturday, I plunged into research. I learned that, nationally, approximately one out of every 300 youth has an undetected heart condition that could cause SCA. The American Heart Association quotes that more than 7,000 children under age 18 are struck by SCA each year. This equates to one young person, nearly every hour, every day, every year. It’s a little known fact that Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) is the leading cause of death in student athletes on school grounds.
There are very few warning signs, and while fainting during play is the most prevalent indicator of a potential heart issue, it is often dismissed as being caused by dehydration or heat exhaustion. Yet we don’t test for the conditions that cause these tragic deaths with simple non-invasive ECG exams. And public awareness of automated external defibrillators (AEDs), which are the only machine that can restart a heart in SCA, as well as CPR skills, is incredibly low. As a result of what I learned, I became determined to still “be Aidan’s mom” and try to prevent SCA from taking more young lives in our local communities. I’m motivated by these facts to do everything possible to decrease the number of preventable deaths in young people in Philadelphia and its surrounding suburbs. I co-founded Aidan’s Heart Foundation shortly after Aidan’s death. To date, we have placed 89 AEDs in youth based sports facilities, trained 6,100 youth on how to perform CPR and how to use an AED, and we have partnered with pediatric cardiologists to provide 2,100 free heart screenings to kids and teens in efforts to detect heart conditions through a simple, non-invasive ECG exam.
Describe a health- or fitness-related turning point in your life.
There are two turning points in my life that have impacted my health. The sudden death of my seven-year-old son, Aidan in 2010; and my current situation as a divorcing parent. While these two major life events cannot possibly be compared to one another in as far as the full extent of heartache, both are losses that cut to the core of my being. Every single day, I make a conscious decision to put my chin up, strive to be connected with my family and friends, and exercise so that my body and mind can work out the anxieties that are fueled by my ruminating thoughts. Even when I’m so low that I just really don’t have the energy to do that. My kids, however, hold me accountable. I’ve got to stand up because of them. I want to always be present to them. Do I dream of days on end spent in bed crying? Of course I do. But I owe my kids more than that, and I owe it to myself to deliver positivity to them as much as I possibly can during this incredibly difficult time.
What policy would you institute to make greater Philadelphia a healthier region?
If I could institute a policy to make Greater Philadelphia a healthier region, it would center around protecting hearts. Annual electrocardiogram exams at every well-child visit, particularly for young athletes; CPR+AED training for all teachers, coaches, instructors, etc. who work with physically active youth; and AED devices available in all schools, child care centers, dance, martial arts, gymnastics and other studios where kids are active, in addition to AEDs being prominently placed on every athletic playing field. These aren’t impossible tasks, but they do take the awareness of the public, particularly parents, to urge our community leaders and policymakers to implement these measures. We owe it to our kids to keep them safe at play.
What is your number one piece of health-related advice/encouragement?
Move your body! Be it cardiovascular exercise like working out, running, walking, biking, or less subtle movement like playing an instrument, gardening, knitting, cleaning out cluttered space. As a reading specialist, I even endorse reading as an “active” activity. Did you know that the left-to-right eye movement while reading resets the limbic system, the part of our system that controls emotions and memory? Even meditation, while the body is still, involves purposeful mental movement. During this global health crisis, feelings like anxiety, loneliness, and boredom are at an all-time high. And when our bodies are idle, our minds are likely to go to dark places. Get moving — one foot in front of the other. You can do this. You have to do this. For you.
My other piece of advice would be to “put your feet on the floor.” Lately, every morning, I’ve woken up at dawn. Not by choice. I’m not ready for that! I used to lay in bed and let my mind build up its anxious, negative thoughts, and by the time I’d get up, I’d start the day with a “half glass empty” mentality that was tough to overcome. Nowadays, when that first awareness of being awake hits me, I lay for a few more minutes, practice deep breathing, and then tell myself, “Put your feet on the floor!” Get up, and get moving! I head out for my morning run, or I get a head start on chores around the house. This head start on the day and time to myself helps me feel energized and engaged throughout the rest of the day when I’m working, being present to my kids, and connecting with friends and family. It’s easier said than done, but it works.
Check out all the semi-finalists here, and remember to vote HERE now. (Remember, you can vote once a day until October 1st!) Stay in touch with @bewellphilly and @phillymagevents and be sure to follow the challenge using #BWPHealthHero!