Lew Simon

Lew Simon, of the Village of Glenbrook, founded the Neighbors Saving Neighbors AED group in The Villages. Simon’s home is one of two on his street equipped with an automated external defibrillator. Two of Simon’s neighbors on St. James Circle have been saved by the program. 

If EMS officials across the state don’t already know about the The Villages’ extraordinary cardiac save rate, they will now — thanks to the resident responsible for driving the initiative. Lew Simon, of the Village of Glenbrook, will share details today with hundreds of Florida emergency response leaders about why Villagers are four times as likely as other Americans to survive a cardiac event. The community’s groundbreaking Neighbors Saving Neighbors program, launched by Simon 15 years ago, places automated external defibrillators in neighborhoods with thousands of residents trained as responders. Today the community houses at least 654 of the devices, the most per capita of any U.S. community for which data was available, a yearlong investigation and exhaustive community canvassing by the Daily Sun has found. Simon’s presentation today to the Florida Association of EMS Educators in St. Augustine will help officials learn how 4 in 10 people survive a cardiac event here compared to only 1 in 10 nationally, according to Daily Sun research and the Cardiac Arrest Registry to Enhance Survival.

More than 2,200 Americans with a median age of 64 will die from a cardiac event today — one in every three deaths — according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So the save rate here is even more remarkable since Sumter County’s median age of 67 is the nation’s highest.

“The hard part is getting neighborhoods involved,” Simon said. “Right now The Villages is about 25% covered. My goal is to get it 100% covered.”

In areas that use the system, residents trained in CPR/AED use are immediately notified by 911 dispatch when a cardiac event is called in. That allows them to begin CPR and administer life-saving AED shocks while emergency responders are en route.

Every second counts, since a patient will typically lose brain function within four minutes of a cardiac arrest. For every one-minute delay in starting CPR and using an AED, the chance of survival decreases by 10%.

CPR buys time, but an AED buys life.

That’s because when sudden cardiac arrest occurs, the heart either starts to flutter — but not enough to pump blood — or races at a dangerous pace. CPR makes the heart pump and keeps oxygen flowing to the body but will not “start” the heart.

AEDs, priced at about $1,500, can detect whether an electrical shock is needed to reset an abnormal hearth rhythm, and then deliver it.

Two of Simon’s neighbors on St. James Circle have been saved by the program.

“What more can you ask for than that?” he said.

David Rowland, the first person saved by the program, was rendered clinically dead by a cardiac event in his home at 6 a.m. on Nov. 14, 2008.

Simon was out of town when his pager alerted him. He tried to call his wife Sherrill, who is also CPR and AED trained, but she was already on her way along with several neighbors.

Their efforts were the only thing keeping blood moving to Rowland’s brain during the 10 minutes that his heart was lifeless. Doctors told his wife he wouldn’t make it through the night, but he pulled through with no brain damage. After a quadruple bypass surgery, he went home 11 days later.

“It’s because of Lew’s aggressiveness, his concern, speaking at neighborhood potlucks every month, that my neighbors were trained to come and save me that morning,” said Rowland, 82, who is a retired surgeon.

Today 471 AEDs are listed in the Neighbors Saving Neighbors program (the others are in places such as schools, businesses, medical offices and law enforcement vehicles) with more than 4,500 CPR/AED-trained residents standing by.

Simon is hoping that doggedness will take root in other communities after today’s presentation. Despite the ballooning cardiac death toll, there is no nationwide standard for reporting data that would reveal outcomes or best practices for agencies across the country to adopt.

Simon also shared copies of the Daily Sun’s ongoing investigation with state EMS leaders at the gathering.

Since the first installment in that investigation was published on Feb. 10:

• Within two days, a surge in demand filled all available CPR/AED classes offered by The Villages Public Safety Department for the upcoming 10 months, prompting the department to double the number of classes for the rest of the year.

• Within two weeks, the department received 248 requests for information on the AED program and on CPR classes.

• Within five months, at least 42 more AEDs were installed in 16 neighborhoods, an 8% increase from 2018.

• Community Watch, which had 20 vehicles equipped with AEDs, added one more. It also began arming its foot patrols with AEDs nightly from 5 to 9 p.m. on the three town squares full of thousands of retirees.

• More than 1,000 local citizens were trained in AED use, a 22% increase in the total number of people trained by Villages Public Safety.

The program has been adopted in at least one other Florida community.

Eight years after Rowland’s experience, a former colleague and her husband heard his story over a meal and decided to spearhead the effort in their own community of Lake Jovita, in Pasco County.

“I put them in touch with Lew Simon, my good friend who lives just two doors down,” Rowland said.

Jonsey and Joe Castellano started with one street, but word quickly spread through the 900-home subdivision.

 “He has a great program and no one knows about it,” said Joe Castellano, whose only struggle was getting 911 dispatch on board. Simon was able to help with that too.

“Lew got in touch with the Pasco County fire chief,” said Joe Castellano. “He convinced him. After that, a hospital in Dade City offered to do the training for free. The fire chief has been very supportive. He’s even come to some training classes.”

Simon has heard of two communities in Arizona and another in Oregon trying to start Neighbors Saving Neighbors programs.

Lt. John Longacre, the Emergency Resource Specialist with Villages Public Safety who conducts training here, is pleased to see the program catching on.

“It’s a neat thing to show for the community, this recognition,” he said. “It’s a neat thing to show for this department. We have high expectations from our customers and with this program, I think that we’re exceeding those expectations.”

And it gives people like Rowland a sense of security.

“It is just amazing,” he said. “Before Neighbors Saving Neighbors, the survival rate for cardiac arrest in the home was something like 5%. Now it’s 40%. How does that make somebody like me, who’s already had a cardiac arrest, feel?”

Creating a Neighbors Saving Neighbors program in a neighborhood starts by contacting Longacre at 352-205-8280 or Lt.John.Longacre@districtgov.org.

“The most frustrating part is when people hear about it, they like it, but nothing gets done,” Simon said. “People will say ‘It’s a great program,’ but then they never call me back.”

After addressing state EMS leaders today, he’s hoping to get more phones ringing.

Staff writer Phill Stuart can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5332, or phillip.stuart@thevillagesmedia.com.