OPINION: Gov. Christie, Sign Janet’s Law

By Howard Levite, MD, Regional President, American Heart Association, New Jersey

More than 2,200 Americans die of cardiovascular disease each day, an average of one death every 39 seconds. Heart disease remains a continued financial burden and our nation’s No. 1 killer claiming one in every three deaths.

As a cardiologist, I am greatly encouraged by the American Heart Association’s bold goal to improve the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent while reducing deaths from cardiovascular diseases and stroke by 20 percent. All aspects of daily living and society need to be examined to accomplish this challenge, including legislation in the Garden State.

Last fall, the American Heart Association supported the New Jersey Fresh Mobiles Act, a program that authorized the Department of Agriculture to create a pilot program sending mobile farmers’ markets into “food desert” areas that are underserved by grocery stores or other outlets that sell fresh healthy food. New Jersey has 134 food deserts identified by the federal government that affect an estimated 340,000 residents. The legislation is a valuable tool in fighting poor nutrition and obesity in the Garden State.

An estimated 295,000 occurrences of out-of hospital sudden cardiac arrest occur per year. Previously, any entity that had an automated external defibrillator (AED) onsite in case of an emergency and any individual that did not hold a current certification in AED use could be held civilly liable for any injuries resulting from AED use.

I am pleased to report that the American Heart Association recently worked with elected officials to amend New Jersey’s Good Samaritan Law. The legislation now provides civil liability protection to acquirers of AEDs and those individuals who use an AED in good faith during an emergency, regardless of their training or certification status.

Another piece of legislations referred to as Janet’s Law, named for 11-year-old Janet Zilinski who died of cardiac arrest during cheerleading practice in 2006, would require schools to have an AED onsite during school hours and at all school sponsored sporting events, require training for certain school personnel, and develop a medical emergency response plan. The bill, which passed both houses of the state legislature unanimously in June, currently awaits the governor’s signature.

I urge Governor Christie to sign Janet’s Law to help protect thousands of athletes and spectators at New Jersey sporting events. This would be another great accomplishment in fighting cardiovascular diseases, our state’s leading cause of death.

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