The Next Chapter – A New Leader

Today marks another milestone in my journey since the loss of Simon. I step down as Executive Director of Simon’s Heart and welcome Jennifer Parrado with open arms.

Jenn comes to us from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society where she served as the Regional Advancement Director. She has spent the last ten years raising awareness, advocating, and fundraising for some amazing causes. So, she’s qualified. More importantly, she is smart, considerate, passionate, humble and witty. She possesses the qualities we value.

It was June 2012, right after the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Prevention Act was signed into law. Simon’s Heart and Representative Mike Vereb made Pennsylvania the first state to pass legislation to protect student athletes from sudden cardiac arrest.  The law requires coaches, parents and students to learn about the risks and warning signs of sudden cardiac arrest. Athletes who are symptomatic must be removed from play and cannot return until cleared by a licensed medical professional.

As we celebrated this major accomplishment, the board asked me a question. If you can host heart screenings and pass a law as a part-time volunteer, what can we accomplish if you do this full time? I had major reservations about making a career out of my loss. I’ll never forget the advice my friend and business partner gave me. Imagine yourself five years from now. Our business and Simon’s Heart are both doing great. Which one makes you more excited and proud?  That’s where you should work. I am so blessed to have wise friends.

The Sudden Cardiac Arrest Prevention Act has become law in fourteen states. Every year, two million student athletes across the country, along with their parents and coaches, learn about sudden cardiac arrest. Over one million coaches have been educated by our training video. We have provided heart screenings for 18,000 + students. Data from our registry has been used to publish seven abstracts and two manuscripts. We partnered with the NCAA to fund research. We introduced a new way to teach kids about CPR using music and balls. We placed hundreds of AED devices in youth-related facilities through partnerships with sports teams and our crowdfunding site. We provide educational materials to youth organizations around the country to educate their students.

I am so proud of this organization – family, co-workers, supporters and partners – for all of these accomplishments. In the face of unimaginable tragedy, we responded with innovative programs that protect hearts and save lives. It’s hard to believe it’s been fifteen years. I can still feel the energy and urgency that existed when we began.

How do I know I’m making the right decision to step down? I don’t. But, I try to imagine Simon’s Heart five years from now. It’s bigger and better. It has impacted more families and helped change a standard of care. Jenn and Jill are running the show (with others too, hopefully). All of you are rallying behind them. I am contributing as a co-founder and board member.

This vision makes me the most proud and excited. It reveals an impactful, sustainable and lifesaving organization.

Jenn and Jill, my family and the board of directors can’t wait to see the places you’ll go. We’ll be right beside you.