In 2012, Gwyneth Griffin passed away shortly after her 13th birthday following a collapse at school resulting from sudden cardiac arrest. Since then, Gwyneth’s parents, Joel and Jennifer Griffin, have been working hard to establish legislation as well as a foundation in their daughter’s honor in order to prevent something similar from happening to another child. They’ve chosen to take their pain and use it to make a change.
“We wanted to make a difference in our community,” explained Jennifer Griffin. “We wanted to make sure other families have a better outcome.”
Gwyneth was born with a minor heart defect and a murmur. She was active in sports and dance, and was a loving, compassionate child. Following her death, her parents worked with the American Heart Association to pass Gwyneth’s Law in Virginia. The law, which became effective in March 2013, requires all public schoolteachers to be trained in CPR and all public schools to be equipped with an automated external defibrillator (AED). An AED sends an electric shock to the heart to restore normal heart rhythms. In addition, all high school students are required to take CPR training as part of their health curriculum, which began this school year.
“Since the law passed, four lives have been saved, and three have been children during a school day,” Jennifer Griffin said.
Last year, The Griffin family also created the Gwyneth’s Gift Foundation, which provides awareness, training, and resources in the event of a heart-related emergency. The goal is to teach people about AEDs—what they are and how they operate—as well as equip more schools and public places with defibrillators in case they are needed.
“Awareness is a big part of our foundation,” said Jennifer Griffin. The foundation offers free CPR training and hosts an annual event open to the public. The foundation is also working with Stafford County to purchase a phone app called PulsePoint. The app tracks where the closest AED is located during a cardiac arrest and notifies those in the vicinity who download it to let them know when and where their assistance is needed. PulsePoint will be deployed in Stafford County early in 2017 through the support of Gwyneth’s Gift and financial contribution of Stafford Hospital.
The foundation has also established three scholarships in Gwyneth’s honor to be given to students at Mountain View High School in Stafford, where Gwyneth would have graduated this school year.
Joel Griffin encourages parents of children with heart conditions to be an advocate for their child, and to teach their child’s day care providers, coaches, counselors or other adults in their life the warning signs and symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest as well as how to perform CPR and use an AED in order to save a life.
“Sudden cardiac arrest can happen to anyone,” Joel Griffin stressed. “It does not discriminate against age, race, gender, socio-economic status or lifestyle.”
The Griffin’s, through the foundation, want Stafford County to be a model for the rest of the Commonwealth.
“We want to see Virginia have one of the best out-of-hospital survival rates on the East Coast. That is our goal,” Joel Griffin said.