Mikeys save lives in honour of one who lost his own

Mikey Network representatives, from left, Morty Henkle, Irit Salem and Hugh Heron 	      [Paul Lungen photo]

The Talmud teaches us that “Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”

In the case of the Mikey Network, that now comes to 18 entire worlds saved – families remaining intact, wives with their husbands, children with their parents – all thanks to the presence of a portable defibrillator about the size of a lunch box.

The Mikey Network’s website counts 17 lives saved thanks to the presence of its public access defibrillators (PADs), but it doesn’t take into account the latest beneficiary of the widely available medical devices.

The 18th person – a portentous number in Jewish tradition, as 18 also signifies “life” – is a middle-aged guy who was playing hockey at a rink in Aurora when he collapsed on the bench. Quick use of the defibrillator’s paddles got his heart beating and raised the number of lives – and universes – saved by one.

L’chayim, as they say.

To date, there are some 1,500 Mikey defibrillators across the province (and a few elsewhere) in public venues as diverse as community centres, gyms, swimming pools, schools and shuls.

In the Jewish community alone there are more than 20 units, including a number at elementary and high schools, synagogues and even two at cemeteries.

More than 200 schools in the Greater Toronto Area already have Mikeys on hand, and on April 22, the Mikey Network will formally announce a $500,000 program that will provide 250 units to the Peel District School Board over the next three years.

For housing developer Hugh Heron, the prevalence of the Mikeys – he hopes the name becomes an accepted shorthand for the defibrillators – is a testament to a fine friend and valued colleague. To Irit Salem, it provides a blessed memory to her late husband, after whom the Mikey Network is named.

Twelve years ago, Mike Salem was playing golf at a course in Muskoka when he began to feel ill. He hit his first shot but by the time he was ready to hit his second, his heart had stopped. He was miles away from any medical attention and, as the Mikey Network says in its promotional literature, “Mike passed away doing what he loved best, playing golf.”

The Mikey Network was created in his memory by Heathwood Homes and the Heron Group of Companies, where Salem was a partner.

Heron, chair of the Mikey Network, recalled Mike Salem as “larger than life. He was an amazing individual. He was a special person. He brought something to the table. He brought something into our lives as a partner and a friend.”

For the Israeli-born Irit, the success of the network is particularly gratifying:

“It’s a great honour to keep his name alive,” she said. “It’s amazing that because of him, so many people have been saved.”

You can count Andrew Rosbrook as one of them. The Toronto police officer was running the GoodLife half marathon last May when he suffered a cardiac event just a few metres from the finish line. Quick use of a Mikey, donated to Toronto Emergency Medical Services, saved him.

The Mikey Network receives requests for the PADs on a regular basis. Morty Henkle, executive director of the organization, handles the requests and determines in conjunction with others to what extent the recipient should contribute to the costs of the units, as well as the CPR training that accompanies them.

“One organization that understood the benefit of Mikeys was GO Transit,” Henkle said. “Now, we have 125 defibrillators on trains and in stations. They have saved lives.”

In addition, 128 Mikey defibrillators have been allocated to families with children suffering heart problems. The presence of the defibrillators in the family home allows the youngsters to lead as normal a life as possible, without worrying whether help can arrive in time if the child suffers a cardiac incident.

The Mikey Network has developed relationships with the Hospital for Sick Kids in Toronto, the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa, and with McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton, which recommend youngsters who could benefit from the devices.

“Last Christmas, a two-year-old baby in Nobleton was saved by a defibrillator,” Henkle said.

Heron, Salem and Henkle want to make the devices as prevalent as fire extinguishers, which are just about everywhere. Why not? Heron and Salem ask. Fire extinguishers save property, but Mikeys save lives.

And heart attacks can happen anywhere. Approximately 40,000 incidents of sudden cardiac arrest occur in Canada each year, 7,000 of them in Ontario.

About 17 to 20 per cent take place outside the home. Quick use of a defibrillator can increase the chance of survival by 50 per cent, the organization says.

What makes the Mikey particularly attractive to laypeople is its ease of use. The machine provides verbal instructions and once the paddles are placed on the chest of the person suffering a cardiac incident, the machine diagnoses the problems and determines whether a shock is required.

Each machine costs $2,500. The Mikey Network’s corporate sponsors provides some of the funds, and the charity solicits donations from the public. Since its inception, the Mikey Network has raised more than $3 million, placed more than 1,500 life-saving Mikeys in public places across Canada, trained more than 12,000 people in CPR/AED (automated external defibrillator) and saved 18 lives, including three students in Toronto high schools.