Founder, Executive Director
Dominic A. Murray 21 Memorial Foundation, Inc.
Last year Melinda Murray of Elmhurst was watching television when her cell phone rang, showing that “Dom My Baby Boy” was calling. But it wasn’t her 17-year old son Dominic on the line−it was her nephew, Terrance. He told Melinda that her son had stopped breathing.
On that grim October day in 2009, Dominic, a student at Farmingdale State College, was playing basketball in an open gym pick-up game at the college when he missed a lay-up and fell. His friends thought he was having a seizure, but Dominic was the victim of Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA).
Other symptoms include collapsing, gasping and gurgling, and being non-responsive. Most people don’t even think that an episode such as Dominic’s could be SCA, especially in a young athlete, but every three days a student athlete dies from SCA.
An ambulance took Dominic to New Island Hospital in Bethpage (now St. Joseph Hospital), where he was pronounced dead a little after 9 p.m. “The news hit Facebook and Twitter, and all his friends came to the hospital,” Melinda recalls. She said it was the first time such a young person had died in the Emergency Room there, and they shut the ER down to accommodate everyone.
“I walked him as far as I could walk him [to the morgue],” Melinda says.
Melinda was very close to Dominic, her only child. Melinda had lost her mother to heart disease at the age of 56, and her husband, Dominic’s father, had died of heart disease at the age of 42.
“Dominic died three years, three months and three days after his father died,” she says sadly.
Dominic’s autopsy concluded that the cause of his SCA was cardiac hypertrophy due to underlying heart problems.
Melinda said that he had been screened only a few weeks before he died and had received medical clearance to participate in college sports. “Dominic had six EKG’s and two Echo’s [echocardiograms] that came out fair. It showed a vague abnormality on his right side. More answers are needed,” Melinda says.
Dominic’s funeral drew more than 3,000 people. “It was a great tribute to my son,” she says.
Kathy Munsch, vice president of the American Heart Association in Plainview, heard about Dominic’s death and called Melinda. “The network grew from there,” Melinda says. Kathy introduced Melinda to Karen Acompora, whose son Louis had died in 2000 while playing high school lacrosse at the age of 14. Karen fought for and won legislation mandating the use of automated external defibrillators [AED] in public schools, changing the way student sports are played in New York. Karen also introduced Melinda to Parent Heart Watch, a national network dedicated to reducing SCA in youth.
“People like Karen and Kathy are what kept me going,” Melinda says today.
She felt the need to do some kind of community service that would keep her son’s memory alive. “Dominic was my heart,” she says, She wondered how she could “best memorialize Dominic while at the same time help someone else?”
Last August, she founded the Dominic A. Murray 21 Memorial Foundation, whose mission is to increase awareness of SCA. The foundation advocates for youth-athlete cardiac screenings, AED accessibility, CPR training, and provides CPR-AED training to coaches, teachers, parents and youth, and sponsors grants for AED equipment.
“Twenty-one was always Dominic’s number,” Melinda explains. “My ultimate goal is to certify 2,100 people in CPR. It’s a lot of people to certify, but it means someone else will have a chance at life. I want to educate people on the signs of SCA and it should be at no cost. What’s the price of a life?” she asks.
She works closely with Clare Guydish at St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn, where the CPR classes are held. Each class runs about four hours, and the certification is valid for two years.
Dominic was hoping to have a career in sports management after he graduated Farmingdale State College. Melinda has high praise for Kathy Coley, the college’s Director of Communications. “Kathy has been phenomenal,” Melinda says, “and has helped me with so many things.” With Dominic’s college and his high school, Melinda is setting up a scholarship fund. “The foundation will be awarding $2,100 for each semester,” she says, noting proudly that it’s another way to memorialize Dominic’s favorite number 21.
Melinda has won many hearts through her terrible ordeal. With her warm personality, it’s easy to see why so many have rallied to help her build the foundation.
“This is taking a terrible situation and turning it around to save other lives,” says Kathy Munsch of the American Heart Association.The foundation is still in its infancy, but Melinda has made many friends since she lost her son. “The hands of many make the work light,” she says.
“Dominic’s my child. I realize he’s gone, but I’m not putting him away,” she says. “I am in his shadow and happy being there.”
To learn more about the Dominic A. Murray 21 Memorial Foundation, Inc.’s advocacy, awareness and fundraising programs email [email protected], visit www.DomHeart21.org or Facebook Dominic A. Murray 21 Memorial Foundation, Inc.
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