Many people occasionally volunteer, perhaps for a loved one’s sports league or by making the occasional donation to a worthwhile cause. Few, however, make it their life’s mission to help and inspire others, as is the case with Allison Gingold.
Allison was born into philanthropy. “I was raised in a family that espoused the importance of charitable giving, both monetarily and with our time and energy. It is how I was raised in our Jewish community, as a part of our culture and religious identity-- it is a form of social justice,” she says.
For Allison, doing good and sharing her life’s experiences is more than a single act, it’s her character. Her very DNA.
Allison pulls much inspiration from her faith and, at times, from her children and their experiences. As she learned in 2009, sometimes these experiences are sudden and unexpected. And, sometimes, the most traumatic, unimaginable experiences can be interwoven into the fabric of whom they become, where they focus their time, and how they create a lasting impact.
During a recent interview with Allison, she shared how a touching and deeply personal story led to not just her involvement in the sudden cardiac arrest community, but how it shaped her philanthropic pursuits in a way that led to advocacy and legislative victory, thus magnifying her impact to families across the state of California for generations to come.
Our story is one of transcendence. In the summer of 2009, our family traveled to Israel to share in the joy of our daughter's bat mitzvah. On the afternoon after her ceremony, upon entering our hotel in Eilat, our older son Zach, who was 14 years old at the time, suffered cardiac arrest in the lobby. It was the most traumatic experience of our lives. No one in our family had any health issues, and Zach had only been exhibiting flu-like symptoms for a couple of days leading up to the event. Because of the early emergency response of two amazing men on our bar mitzvah tour who performed CPR and the immediate administering of the hotel's automated external cardiac defibrillator, we were able to save our son's life. He is our miracle and we are blessed by his survival.
I have spoken to many people about the lessons from our experience - the importance and power of connectedness. The connection we felt within the community in Israel, the connections at our school in Los Angeles and throughout our city and state. People we did not know who showed up with food, care, and love to support our family.
Upon returning home to Los Angeles, Allison and her family “...discovered that there was a dramatic need for education, awareness, and training for early emergency response,” she shares. “While our children's school purchased AEDs and trained our faculty and administration in CPR, I wanted all students who graduated high school in California to understand the importance of CPR.”
Allison met the challenges associated with limited sudden cardiac arrest-related education head-on by connecting with the state’s legislators and other advocates. She knew that the pathway to meaningful reforms and broader awareness around performing CPR and early defibrillation with an AED to help those in need -- precisely as was the response of bystanders when her son was in need -- lies with our youth:
I cannot impress upon you the value of providing our children with the tools to potentially save another person's life. From personal experience, you can understand that without the immediate action by people around us, our lives would be dramatically different today.
Having CPR training isn't just aimed at making our children potential heroes, it is about combatting the fear of the unknown. Getting our kids trained young is a step toward eliminating that fear. We want to raise children with the confidence that if perchance, there is an outside possibility that they are faced with an emergency situation, they will take action. Someday, somewhere, someone is going to live another day because of our efforts.
Through my advocacy and other committed individuals in our state, Hands-only CPR is now a requirement to be taught before graduating high school in our California school system.
When asked what she would change about today’s sudden cardiac arrest, CPR, and AED “industry,” she responded,
I think we still have a lot of work ahead on understanding and supporting the survivors of cardiac arrest. There are not only physical changes and lifestyle changes that survivors undertake, but there are large emotional and mental effects that I do not believe are properly addressed.
Furthermore, there is always more work to be done to have greater access to AEDs in our community and continuing education in the use of CPR and AEDs.
And lastly, there is a large component of heart health that needs to be addressed. Educating families about the importance of heart health screenings of their children and being proactive in ensuring the safety of young athletes. There is still a stigma to many parents who do not take the necessary measures to ensure their children are properly screened to discover any underlying heart issues. With the work of Saving Hearts Foundation at UCLA as a model, I hope we can continue to provide open channels of communication and education to identify the possible presence of an as-yet-undiagnosed genetic heart condition in individuals without signs or symptoms.
While Allison is a strong proponent of AEDs, she feels that there remains room for improvement. “Today's AEDs need to be more affordable, more accessible and easily transportable. I also believe we need to have better education training companies and individuals on AED usage and ensuring they are in proper working order.”
A significant pathway to Allison’s success lies in her ability to build support and consensus. Allison has found that one way to create such support and encourage active philanthropic participation is by allowing people to gravitate toward personally meaningful causes.
I think it is essential to get involved in the areas that you feel the most connected to or have had the most impact in your life. It could be your connection to the environment, a health cause, supporting the political areas you are passionate about, your religious connections... One of the first steps could just be attending a discussion held by someone in that field. Listening to their ideas and being open and receptive. Encouraging your friend or family member to go with you as a great support system for making your first entry into giving. The more you show up, the more comfortable you become and the more enriched you will feel to make the difference.
The most rewarding aspect of giving back is to see how your efforts can not only meet the financial needs of an individual or entity but can motivate and inspire other individuals to join in your cause, to move humanity forward. Showing people that you really see them, hear them and understand their situation-- that they matter.
California’s students will soon be receiving an education in life-saving skills. An education that they’ll take with them for the rest of their lives and be able to apply to society beyond their senior year in high school. The creation of a new perpetual generation of potential rescuers is undoubtedly inspiring, as is Allison and the good work she does.
About Allison: Allison Gingold is an attorney and philanthropist. She is the immediate past President of University Women, of American Jewish University, Vice Chair of Women's Philanthropy of The Jewish Federation, Executive Board member of the SAM Initiative, the Greater Los Angeles Advocacy Committee Member of the American Heart Association, and a Los Angeles Affiliation Member of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation. Allison lives in the greater Los Angeles area with her husband and four children. To learn more about Allison, in her own words, visit:. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6IYL4F7jzcY
By Sameer Jafri, Revive AED