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Preventing sudden cardiac arrest: Project ADAM celebrates 100 lives saved

Adam Lemel wrote in his eighth-grade autobiography that he wanted to live a life he could be proud of.

That life would be tragically cut short, as Adam collapsed and died in 1999 while playing in a high school basketball game. His sudden death at age 17 was devastating for his family, friends and community. As his parents dealt with their grief, they also sought to honor Adam’s desire of a life well-lived, and that same year — with the help of Dr. Stuart Berger and Children’s Wisconsin — the Whitefish Bay family created Project ADAM (Automated Defibrillators in Adam’s Memory).

Project ADAM’s mission was to help schools throughout the nation prepare for and respond to cardiac emergencies by placing automated external defibrillators (AEDs) in schools. It was a new concept at the time and required a lot of work and dedication. But that persistence paid off, and we now celebrate the 100th life saved through Project ADAM efforts.

The 100th save occurred at a Georgia K4–12 school, where a senior unexpectedly collapsed during a volleyball game last October. After CPR efforts failed, a school official saved her by using one of the school’s six AEDs. Moreover, the school had rehearsed drills that prepared them to react when the situation called for it.

One of my favorite moments being involved with Project ADAM was when Adam’s father, Joe, and I attended the 10-year anniversary of Heart Safe Schools in the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) system. This event included a girl who suffered cardiac arrest in the same school years before. I saw the sadness in Joe’s eyes as he recounted his son’s death, but Joe spoke so eloquently when he said that it was his dream to share the stage with a Project ADAM survivor.

This has been Adam’s legacy: 100 lives saved and counting.