When 17-year-old Emilio Martinez went into cardiac arrest last year after a weight-training session at Vail’s Cienega High School, school employees were able to reach immediately for an auto- mated external defibrillator to start his heart beating again.
That quick response undoubtedly saved Martinez’s life, doctors say.
His story prompted another quick response: After learning other area high schools lacked the lifesaving equipment, the non-profit Steven M. Goot- ter Foundation donated defibrillators to 20 southern Arizona high schools, as well as six Boys and Girls Clubs and the Jim Reffkin Tennis Center at Reid Park. Each defibrillator costs more than $1,000.
“Young people are certainly less likely to suffer cardiac arrest, but when they do it’s important to have the equipment available,” said Dr. Julia Indik, a cardiologist and associate professor of medicine with the University of Arizona Sarver Heart Center. “Time is always of the essence.”
The Gootter Foundation also will donate defibrillators to Arizona Theatre Company, the Tucson Museum of Art, St. Elizabeth Health Center, Temple Emanu-El, Sunrise Drive Elementary School and St. Frances Cabrini Church.
The foundation is named for the Tucson entrepreneur who died suddenly and unexpectedly in February 2005 at age 42 during a morning run with the family dog. Gootter succumbed to sudden cardiac death, which kills 1,000 Americans every single day.
“We hope these defibrillators will never have to be used,” said Claudine Mess- ing, Gootter’s sister and wife of Gootter Foundation Vice President Andrew Messing.
“But if they are, we feel good knowing that we may be able to save another family from the tragedy that we’ve gone through.”
For five years, the Gootter Foundation has supported the Sarver Heart Center’s research on sudden cardiac death, in hope of finding ways to prevent the kill- er. Through its annual Gootter Grand Slam Tennis Tournament, and private donations, the foundation has raised more than $1 million. Of that, $245,000 has gone to Investigator research awards and the rest toward a $2 million en- dowment that will support a Steven M.
Gootter Chair for the Prevention and Treatment of Sudden Cardiac Death.
Gootter Foundation Investigator Awards range from $25,000 to $50,000 and enable Sarver researchers to obtain preliminary data on various factors leading to sudden cardiac death. Research- ers then use that data to obtain major grants from the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association.
“It used to be if you had a good idea, you could get funding for it,” said Carol Gregorio, head of the department of cell biology and anatomy and director of the Sarver Heart Center’s molecular cardiovascular research program. “Now you have to get data ahead of time, so you can prove that your research is going to bring results.”
Sudden cardiac death can be caused by any of several disease processes. Gregorio and her laboratory team are looking at two proteins that regulate heart muscle function and, when mutated, can lead to heart disease and sudden cardiac death.
Another Gootter Foundation grant funded Research Assistant Professor Mohamad Azhar’s effort to develop more effective ways to repair aneurysms, and even prevent them from occurring. As a result of the data he obtained from the Gootter grant research, Azhar is being considered for a national multi-million-dollar grant.
Last September, two other researchers received $25,000 Gootter Investigator awards.
Assistant Professor Rayna Gonzales is studying how human androgen hor- mones may offer protection from sud- den cardiac death. Assistant Professor John Konhilas is studying whether mild exercise can be beneficial for patients suffering from hypertrophic cardio- myopathy – a thickening of the heart muscle that can trigger sudden cardiac death, particularly in young athletes.
“All of this gives us a purpose,” said Claudine Messing. “The foundation is our call to action, our bigger purpose. Not that we asked for it – but that’s what we’ve been given.”
Dr. Indik called the Gootter family’s philanthropy “a godsend” to Sarver Heart Center. “They are really won- derful people,” she said. “They turned a terrible tragedy in their lives into a meaningful, life-giving mission of helping others.”
The Gootter family’s mission has attracted significant corporate support. Auto dealer Jim Click said he is motivat- ed by his family’s longstanding friend- ship with the Gootters.
“Paulette and Joe Gootter have been great friends of Vicki and mine ever since we came to Tucson in 1971,” Click said. “They are absolutely wonderful people and we have watched all of their children grow up – what a fantastic family.
“I had a personal relationship with Steve because of cycling and we would talk business. In fact, I still have a bike seat that I think he designed and I still use today.
“I can’t imagine what it must be like to lose a child at an early age; especially to a cardiac death. It is very easy for me to support their cause and foundation. I’m just amazed that they have raised this kind of money so far; but that is just the kind of people that they are. They are loving and very giving and so was their son. I know that he would be very pleased with what they have done to pay tribute to him and to try and find a cure.”