The story you are about to read is one I wish with all my heart I didn't have to tell. It's hard to find the right words. Thoughts and emotions tangle and grasp my stomach in a tight knot. Tears begin to flow when I think of those beautiful eyes, the expression of gentleness.
Nicolo had always been part of our lives. He grew up with our son in the same town. They went to the same day care, they played in the same playground and walked the same streets with their friends, relishing and enjoying the beauty and tenderness of adolescence. An awkward age for boys whose behavior wavers between the need for attention and guidance and the desire for freedom and independence. For parents, the teenage years are complicated, but also touching and exciting. We are often called to step back and observe. As our children become young adults, our hearts fill with pride at the thought that a tiny part of us lives inside of them. We are given the chance to stand by their side through the first shy achievements of life, but most importantly, through moments of challenge, adversity and sometimes defeat.
For Nicolo's family, for Natasha (his mother), for Sandro (his father) and for Alessandra (his little sister), all this vanished in one terrible moment.
On July 21st , 2013 Nicolo collapsed during a soccer game with his friends at the beach. An autopsy revealed that Nicolo suffered a fibrillation. He was 13 years old.
A fibrillation is a medical condition that affects the heart, causing it to beat out of control. In many cases, the only way to neutralize it is by using an AED (Automated External Defibrillator). These electronic devices are used to restart a heart that has stopped beating. They are safe, easy to use and can be operated effectively by the public. CPR ( cardiopulmonary resuscitation) can also help restore blood flow to someone suffering cardiac arrest for a short time, until proper medical care arrives. Unfortunately, neither the device nor somebody trained for CPR were present when Nicolo fell unconscious to the ground.
In Italy more than 60, 000 people a year are hit by cardiac arrest. In Europe, the victims are 400,000. Less than 20 percent survive after being dismissed from hospital. Over 7 percent of cases of cardiac arrest happen in front of witnesses, but the majority of the italian population is not equipped to perform CPR and is not trained to use an AED. In Europe only 15 percent of cardiac arrest victims receive CPR.
A study conducted on 13,679 patients with cardiac arrest showed a survival rate that increased by 9 percent when CPR was performed. The single digit became 38 percent when witnesses used an AED on victims. Numbers that speak for themselves and give us an encouraging solution to a worldwide problem.
However, it is still Italy I am talking about. While many governments around the globe realize the importance of educating people to the use of AEDs as well as the ability to perform CPR, here, in the wild west people continue to die. As with many other social issues, government funding to purchase and distribute AEDs is not on the priority list.
As a matter of fact the entire affair is left up to foundations and associations who organize fundraising events hoping to be able to purchase and distribute as many AEDs as possible. They also organize courses and train citizens to use the devices and perform CPR. But, in times of economic crisis donations are hard to come by.
When I stop and think about what Nicolo's family found the courage and strength to do only days after their beloved son had passed away, chills run down my spine. Sandro and Natasha founded their own association and began talking to people about Nicolo's story. In just one year they raised enough money to buy and share fourteen AEDs for Porto San Giorgio, our hometown, whose population counts 16, 500 inhabitants. They also managed to launch their first AED course, free and open to the public. They are forming volunteers who will be able to save lives. They are giving our community the chance to do good through education, motivated by love. Above the excruciating pain, they are giving Nicolo's death sense.
Dear Nicolo, in February, 2013 you quoted a song by a young italian rapper, Emis Killa: " The heart is a faulty machine so I turned it off."
Our commitment to you is to keep the heart of humanity beating. Because to us you never left. You're right here. We see your beautiful smile. It gives us hope when we feel down and it fills our lives with warmth. You have given us a mission and we accept it with joy.