MILWAUKEE (BVM) – Adam Lemel was your typical high schooler. The 17-year-old was an athlete at Whitefish Bay High School where he played both basketball and tennis. It seemed that the young man had a bright future ahead of him.
However, that all changed during a basketball game on Jan. 21, 1999. That day, Lemel went into sudden cardiac arrest due to undiagnosed arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia. The school in which the episode occurred didn’t have an automated external defibrillator, or AED, on sight which wasn’t unusual at the time. Lemel didn’t have an AED implemented on him until paramedics arrived and by that time it was unfortunately too late to save Lemel’s life.
Though Lemel died that day, his spirit is still very much alive through the work of Project ADAM, a nationwide initiative that pushes to raise awareness of sudden cardiac arrest and provide cardiac emergency action plans in schools, community centers and other areas. The ADAM in the initiative stands for Automated Defibrillators in Adam’s Memory and to date, there are 38 Project ADAM affiliates sites, mostly Children’s hospitals, across 29 states which have helped save over 200 lives.
“The goals for Project ADAM are recognizing sudden cardiac arrest and then responding with prompt CPR and AED action,” Project ADAM Administrator Alli Thompson said. “Along with that, getting more people trained and not afraid to learn CPR and AED skills and taking down those barriers for training. Also creating heart-safe schools and heart-safe environments so making sure that there’s not only AED equipment and trained people, but there is a practice plan around that.”
Given the scary situation that happened on Monday Night Football between the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals on Jan. 2 which saw Bills’ safety Damar Hamlin go into sudden cardiac arrest on the field, the people at Project ADAM were further inspired in their mission.
“I feel like everyone kind of held their breath when that was happening,” Thompson said. “Our response was people are listening now and how can we continue to get the word out. We’re trying to say the same things we’ve been saying for many years, but we know people are listening.”
With sudden cardiac arrest now at the forefront of many conversations in the sports world, Project ADAM wants to further drive attention to the issue.
“Out of this tragic event we know that positive action must emerge,” the Project ADAM team wrote in a statement. “As pediatric health systems, we believe that every school, athletic field, health club, community center – in fact, anywhere youth tend to gather – should have a cardiac emergency action plan in place that is practiced regularly. This approach can, and will, continue to save lives as was so beautifully demonstrated on the football field in Cincinnati last Monday night.”
Though the Hamlin incident was a scary one that millions of sports fans across the country witnessed, it thankfully didn’t have a tragic ending. Hamlin was released from the hospital on Jan. 11 and will look to soon make a full recovery.
“He is 100% a case study in what we are looking to get in place,” Thompson said of Hamlin. “Everything that we preach, his case kind of showcases.”
With this situation in mind, many schools and other organizations have reached out to Project ADAM to either further their commitment to being heart-safe spaces or wanting to start the process of adding one.
“We’re getting tons of requests on how to get training, how to purchase an AED,” Thompson said. “I think the call to action is not for everyone to go out and purchase a personal AED, but more so ‘make sure we have one, are people trained, do we have a team that is practicing what would happen in that situation’ so we have a lot of requests like that with people who are interested in finishing up that process and putting plans in place.”
Project ADAM hopes to see more saves happen in cases of sudden cardiac arrest, especially when it comes to the youth. As Lemel’s father wrote on the initiative’s website, “I can’t help my son, but I can help yours.”
“When you say you’re part of a life being saved it’s chilling because you know that person is here today because those life-saving measures were taken,” Thompson said. “Those saves are definitely not to say that Project ADAM did that 100%, we were a piece of the puzzle. A save for Project ADAM means our team worked with that school and that school proactively had a trained team in place, had equipment, people knew what to do and that person survived because those measures were in place.”
Thompson advises people to get more education on sudden cardiac arrest situations. Whether this means getting training or certification or simply just being able to recognize the signs of sudden cardiac arrest, Thompson feels it will be beneficial to anyone.
“Watch a video, have your staff watch a video, family, friends just to know visually what to do,” Thompson said. “Then if you can get practice on a mannequin or a training unit for an AED, that again I think creates confidence to take action.”
With over 200 lives saved to date and 400 heart-safe schools in Wisconsin alone, Project ADAM has helped change the lives of hundreds of young people and their families. Now, with sudden cardiac arrest and the emergency responses surrounding it squarely in the spotlight, Project ADAM will look to increase its save total long into the future. Though Adam Lemel may no longer be able to help people physically, he is helping the entire country through his memory and spirit.