On Nov. 18, 2010, Steve Shamban went into cardiac arrest at his gym, Work Out World in Norwood, and died at age 61. He had no history of heart problems, and worked out regularly.
His grief-stricken widow, Lyn, would later learn that the gym’s defibrillator — mandated under state law — was hanging on a wall behind a desk “in an area not easily accessible or clearly marked,” according to the police report. No attempt was made to use it on him.
According to Massachusetts law, gyms and health clubs must have an accessible defibrillator on site, and staff trained to use it.
But under lobbying by the International Health, Racquet & Sports Association, Lyn Shamban says, the law has what she considers a huge loophole. She calls it the “non-use” clause, and it states that “absent a showing of gross negligence or willful or wanton
misconduct, no cause of action against a health club or its employees may arise in connection with the use or non-use of a defibrillator.”
Shamban believes the clause seriously weakens the law. “There’s just no reason to have that in,” she says. “It doesn’t make health clubs follow through.”
The automated external defibrillator (AED) is an electrical device used in treating an abnormally beating heart. The medical community has pushed for defibrillators in public places because research shows that they can save lives.
Dr. Andrew Geller, an emergency room doctor at Norwood Hospital, where Shamban was taken after he died, says studies show that AEDs greatly improve a patient’s survival rate, and with no brain damage.
“The survival rate when someone is shocked immediately is virtually 100 percent,” Geller says. “Within three or four minutes, it’s still very high, 75 to 80 percent survival.” But after seven or eight minutes, the survival rate decreases dramatically.
Geller applauds Lyn Shamban’s efforts to change the law; he, too, has testified at the State House in favor of mandating the use of defibrillators in public places. “It’s great that the gyms have them, but we want them to use them,” he says.
Inquiries to Work Out World in Norwood were referred to the corporate office, but repeated calls to that office were not returned.
Geller knows that gyms want the “non-use” loophole to protect them from liability. But both he and Shamban stress that the Good Samaritan Law protects individuals from any liability while using an AED.
And they’re easy to use, says Geller: “These devices are almost idiot-proof. You could teach your 5-year-old kid how to use one.” He feels confident that Shamban would “have had a very good chance of surviving” had a defibrillator been used. “The data is clear.”
Steve Shamban spent his career as a bankruptcy attorney, and he and Lyn lived in the same house in Sharon for 33 years, where they raised their two children. Last June, Lyn moved to Arlington, where their daughter lives.
“I find it to be a very cruel irony that a man who dedicated his life to using his knowledge and skill of the law to help others may have died because he was not protected by the law,” says Lyn. “I cannot have peace until this law is changed.”
The couple met 38 years ago when both were working at Filene’s in Chestnut Hill. They were married for 36 years. He loved the Red Sox, the Patriots, and Chinese food. “He cried at mushy movies, he got tearful at weddings. . . . He couldn’t have been more joyful than when he was in the presence of his children,” Lyn said at his funeral.
Lyn describes herself as shy, and says she has had to put that aside while she campaigns for a change in the defibrillator law. She is using social media to get the word out that voters should let their state legislators know how they feel.
In a recent blog post, she wrote: “Defibrillators are simple to use and cannot cause harm. They can only help. If the defibrillator had been used in time, Steve would have, at least, been given a chance to survive.He was never given that chance.”
She urged others to see if there is a defibrillator at their gym, hanging in a visible place.
Geller stresses that no one wants to put health clubs and gyms out of business by removing the loophole in the law.“I’m not interested in shutting down a gym, but we sure want people saved when they have cardiac arrest, and with the defibrillators we can save a bunch of people,” he says.
Shamban agrees. “It is extremely painful to relive the shock and grief of losing my husband as I work on changing this law, but I do not feel I have a choice. I can’t bring him back, but this is a meaningful way to honor Steve’s memory, by helping to prevent other tragedies.”
She has enlisted the support of her state legislator, Representative Sean Garballey, who recently introduced a bill that would remove the “non-use” clause from the current law. It has gone to the Judiciary Committee, and Garballey, a Democrat who represents Arlington and Medford, says he has heard no objections so far.
“For me, this is really a public health concern and it’s not about trying to penalize health clubs,” he says. “Lyn and I strongly believe that had there been an available defibrillator at the health club and people who knew how to use it, her husband would still be alive.’’
He says there’s a working defibrillator at his own health club, and when next I go into my gym, I’ll be checking that out, too.