History of Janet’s Law
At approximately 5:50 p.m. on August 10, 2006, Janet Zilinski, an 11-year-old recreational cheerleader from Warren, New Jersey, reported to practice. While Janet listened to instruction from her cheer coaches and engaged in some light warmup activities, her brother, Jimmy, was practicing football on a nearby field. The cheerleaders moved to the track for a one-lap jog, and Janet, whose ankle was feeling better after some recent soreness, decided to participate as well.
During the jog, Janet informed a friend that she was going to rest. She was feeling tired. Soon after, Janet became unconscious and her heart stopped beating. Adults around practice and an EMT responded to the emergency. They administered CPR at the field and during the ride to the hospital, but ultimately, for the Zilinski family and a child with no known medical or heart complications, the evening would end in an unfortunate tragedy.
Six years later, with the help of the Zilinski family, “Janet’s Law” was passed in the state of New Jersey. On September 1, 2014, all public-school districts and nonpublic entities that provide instruction to students in grades kindergarten through 12 were required to abide by new automated external defibrillator (AED) regulations, and emergency action plan recommendations were set forth.
Educating the School Community in Sudden Cardiac Arrest, CPR and AED
With the emergence of Janet’s Law and other AED-related legislation throughout the country, great efforts have been made to educate those in the athletic community regarding the cardiac chain of survival and the role each member of the athletic community has in these components. Early access to defibrillation optimizes chances of survival. Janet’s Law is one of the most comprehensive AED legislations in the nation, but best practices still need to be shared so that athletic departments in New Jersey, as well as those states with less stringent regulations, can have more guidance in emergency protocol procedures.
Make it a “Team Effort” – Each athletic team should share in the responsibility of emergency action procedures. Both student and adult designees should have assignments to respond to an emergency and those roles can be transparent in team rosters, eligibility lists, etc. Roles should be defined for an emergency such as the AED retriever, emergency caller, ambulance spotter and other responsibilities. The administration and district athletic trainers should share in the responsibility of maintaining a team approach for emergency response.
Review Expectations at the Beginning of Each Season – Starting a sport season is admittedly hectic, but this is the time when coaches, students and community members should be more focused and listening attentively. Compliance procedures should be reviewed, and proudly announce the number of people in your district who are certified in first aid, CPR and AED usage. Create schedules and appointments that stress the importance of classes and refresher courses. Consider celebrating the safety of your school district via banners and other signage.
Sustaining Goals through AED Upkeep and Skills – While each of these components is incredibly important, emergency- ready AED units that are fully functional is a necessity. In a cooperative manner, create and review spreadsheets with nursing staff and athletic trainers that outline ongoing inspections. Include electrode expiration, battery life, details of supplies in the “ready bag,” functional prompts and overall state of the AED case itself.
Situations in which an AED has been transported in and out of extreme temperatures can impact both the battery life and adhesiveness of electrodes – both of which could render the unit useless in an emergency. When appropriate, consider contracting with an outside service via DeFibTech or CardiacScience to help with this aspect.
In addition to defibrillator maintenance, regular and consistent CPR training and review is essential. Practical hands-on skills can be lost as quickly as three months after the completion of a certification course. Consider using Google Sheets or other asynchronous forms of communication that clearly state the status of district employees and their training. Color code the compliance of individuals so that it can be easily interpreted by staff and other personnel.
Practice, Practice, Practice – Emergencies can create chaos. Impress upon coaches the importance of “Code Blue” drills and the consistent practice of emergency action plans during the season. Include the expectation of these ongoing practices in pre-season talks and meetings. Mr. Zilinski, now a middle school teacher in Somerset County, New Jersey, admits that although he is proud of the law’s progression, the one thing he regrets is not defining and requiring cardiac response drills.
Many schools have taken it upon themselves to incorporate these practices into routine drills so that when a real emergency occurs, individuals are more equipped to appropriately respond. Consider requiring each team to perform a simulated emergency during each season so that the roles on paper require execution.
Since Janet’s Law’s passage, 19 lives in the state of New Jersey have been saved, and the Zilinski family expects many more lives will be saved in coming years. Mr. Zilinski described his daughter as a giving and loving child and has reconciled with the fact that others are alive because of her legacy. This is what gives him and others in his family comfort.
Additional Resources for Athletic Directors
www.janetzilinski.org – School districts can learn more about Janet Zilinski, Janet’s Law and AED protocol through the family’s support of “The Janet Fund.” Through this website, administrators can also apply for AED grants that will improve on school compliance.
https://janetzilinski.org/keep-your-heart-in-the-game.html – Learn and support the AED legislation that is growing in response to protecting athletes in youth and recreational programs.
https://www.aedbrands.com/resource-center/choose/aedstate-laws/ – Learn about each individual’s state laws regarding AEDs, summary of requirements and Good Samaritan protections.
Daniel W. Uszaki, Ed.D., CMAA is the assistant principal and athletic director at Northern Burlington High School in Columbus, New Jersey. Erin Cearfoss-Hallion, MS, LAT, ATC; and Kelly Pagnotta, Ph.D., LAT, ATC, PES, are certified athletic trainers at Northern Burlington High School in Columbus, New Jersey.