Voters overwhelmingly approved an article seeking an appropriation of $50,000 to pay for the installation of automated external defibrillators, or AEDs, on all town playing fields at a Special Town Meeting last month.
The individuals behind the AED initiative are now seeking donations to help fund the remaining costs, a total of $135,000. Anyone who donates a significant amount will be recognized with a plaque planted on the site of one of the AED units.
"We can't fund this privately," said Stephanie Driscoll, one of the parents behind the initiative. "We really need the community members now to be putting forth some funding toward this project."
The $50,000 approved at Special Town Meeting will cover the installation of AEDs, used to jolt a heart attack victim back to life, on six playing fields in town. However, that leaves nine fields left to cover, a total cost of $135,000. It costs $15,000 to install one AED unit.
At a Special Town Meeting held last month, the article proposed by the AED initiative, spearheaded by three Andover moms — Santina Wilson, Mimi LeBrun, and Driscoll — was approved by voters.
Wilson, an Andover resident and a nurse, reached out to Driscoll and LeBrun to help kick-off her idea to get AEDs put on all playing fields in town. As a sports mom who has cardiac issues herself, she said she noticed at her children's games there were no AEDs on any of the fields they played at.
"Every year you hear about a child dying on a field and there's no AED," she said. "We needed to be proactive so this tragedy doesn't happen to one of our children in town."
As the thought surrounding the absence of AEDs continued to resurface in her mind, Wilson reached out to town officials presenting her idea, as well as other parents on Facebook for support. That's where she teamed up with Driscoll and LeBrun, who are also parents of student athletes and showed strong support for Wilson's idea.
After nearly a year of working with town officials and Fire Chief Michael Mansfield to get their idea off the ground, their article was presented on the warrant for the 2019 Special Town Meeting.
The money already approved will fund the immediate installation of AEDs at Deyermond Field, Upper Shawsheen Field and Lower Shawsheen Field, all of which already have the solar panels necessary to power the machines. Two other fields will have AEDs installed in July from the approved money.
Mike Callahan has lost two loved ones to heart failure in his lifetime. He is 38 years old.
Callahan's father, David, died from heart failure at age 29. Years later, Callahan's 17-year-old sister Kristin went for a run on the last day of her junior year of high school and collapsed in a nearby park. She was found dead by a resident walking their dog. It was after her death when medical professionals realized she had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or HCM
Callahan also lives with the heart condition, but wears a defibrillator at all times and takes medication in an effort to control it.
Now, he is turning his tragedies into efforts to prevent others from suffering the same way his father and sister did.
After being contacted via email by Wilson, Driscoll and LeBrun, Callahan donated five AEDs on behalf of the Kristin M. Callahan Foundation to the plan to have the life-saving devices installed at every playing field in town. The three stumbled across the Kristin M. Callahan Foundation online and, immediately interested, looked to collaborate.
Ten years after his sister died, in 2009, Callahan started the foundation in her honor. The foundation works to help improve the awareness, diagnosis and treatment of heart disease in young people. They provide scholarships and donations to nearby communities and local hospitals that specialize in HCM.
Their main source of funding comes from an annual barbecue held at Ipswich River Park in North Reading. This year's barbecue will be held June 29.
"The whole idea of starting the foundation was to turn something negative into something positive. You can't go back and change it so you might as well make the best of it," said Callahan. "The awareness is part of it too. This is something people should pay attention to."
At Deyermond Field, Callahan donated five automated external defibrillator to the AED initiative on behalf of the foundation, bringing their total number of donated AEDs to over 20. Callahan said one AED costs roughly $2,000.
The three said they are hoping their initiative in Andover will help raise awareness throughout the Merrimack Valley, and that every field in the area will become equipped with AEDs.
"You can't put a gauge on saving someone's life," said LeBrun. "These life-saving machines are invaluable."
Driscoll said their goal is to have all fields covered with AEDs by the fall of 2020. Donations are asked to be made out to Andover Fire Rescue for the AED initiative.