Wiry and strong as two men, Charlie personified physicality. He could often be found in the no-man's-lands of the world - doing research in the malarial swamp islands of the Panama Canal during the summers, and tracking various species in the Grand Tetons or deep in the Adirondacks in the dead of winter.
Charlie produced a minor sensation two years ago, when he discovered that the fisher cat, a weasel-like creature long thought extinct in New Jersey, had reappeared. His discovery piqued media interest, and for months thereafter reports of strange animal cries in the night and supposed fisher sightings appeared in various news reports. (The Inquirer reported on his work and published one of his op-eds.)
In a heartbeat
Then it all ended. Now Charlie's friends and family are setting up a foundation to carry on his work.
It's difficult to express the feelings of friends and family who suddenly lose a strong, active loved one in a heartbeat. Glimpsing the unimaginable weight of sorrow bearing down on Charlie's fiancee and his young friends and colleagues at the funeral, I thought of the forlorn female mourners depicted on Michelangelo's tomb and the memorial to Dante in Florence. And as I knelt at the bier, I thought I saw him move several times: Because he was the epitome of activity in life, I couldn't keep him still in death.
Many medical professionals, activists, and victims' families are working to prevent more such tragedies. Bereaved parents have created memorial foundations such as the Philadelphia area's Simon's Fund (www.simonsfund.org).
Established by Phyllis and Darren Sudman in 2005, the fund has helped make possible 2,000 pediatric cardiac screenings in partnership with Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "Every kid in the country should have his or her heart checked out," Phyllis Sudman said.
Well worth it
Children's also maintains a program that seeks to place automatic external defibrillators in schools, recreation centers, and other public places where they may save lives in the event of sudden cardiac arrest.
With 300 doctor and nurse volunteers, the Athlete Health Organization (www.athletehealth.org) offers free cardiac screening for area athletes in the sixth through 12th grades. It does so with private funding, professional assistance from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and area hospitals, and the cooperation of athletic directors in the region. According to director Brian Roman, this grand partnership has screened 2,200 student-athletes just this year.
Infants at Abington Memorial Hospital's Corrine Santerian Newborn Center will receive electrocardiograms under a pilot program sponsored by Simon's Fund and directed by Dr. Steven Shapiro, the hospital's chairman of pediatrics. Shapiro's long-term goal is to screen every infant born at Abington.
In one sample group of New Jersey children, three of 70 tested had cardiac problems, two of which needed immediate treatment. In a Houston group, seven of 94 children screened had problems, two of which required immediate surgery.
The momentum for mandatory cardiac screening of young people is growing across the nation. It is truly worth the effort.
Silvio Laccetti is a social sciences professor at Stevens Institute of Technology. He can be reached at email@example.com.