Mitzvah Heroes: Darren and Phyllis Sudman, college sweethearts who married in 1996 and went on to have sweet success as major execs at AOL. The couple created and became guiding forces behind Simon’s Fund, dedicated to their son who died at 14 weeks old in 2005 from an undiagnosed case of Long QT Syndrome, an arrhythmia of the heartbeat. The fund provides free heart screenings to youngsters.
What They Do for Love: The couple holds a major yearly fundraiser and helps organize screenings throughout the community. Due to their efforts and the aid of others, there seems to be a screening available at any given time, such as the one put on Nov. 4 by the Kehillah of Old York Road in conjunction with Perelman Jewish Day School in Melrose Park.
Not a One-Time Thing: The Sudmans continue to dedicate much time and energy — along with the expertise of their acclaimed medical board — to getting the word out about seemingly hidden heart ailments afflicting kids.
How They Do It: “One heart at a time,” goes their mantra. To date, they've raised more than $1 million and advocated to bring the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Prevention Act before Pennsylvania legislators. Gov. Tom Corbett signed the bill — targeting protection of student athletes — earlier this year.
Good for Them: The fund has opened up the world — and the hearts of this Plymouth Meeting couple, who have two children.
“I had to set aside my commitment to Jewish organizations to run Simon's Fund. That is how strongly I believe in what we are doing," notes Darren, who had been active with the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s Men's Cabinet and served as a board member of the Anti-Defamation League. “It turns out I needn't have felt conflicted. Over the course of its seven-year history, Simon's Fund has revealed its Jewish identity. At our very first screening, three students from Or Ami Synagogue discovered heart conditions. All three required medical intervention — one, open heart surgery.”
The fund has also become a popular B'nai Mitzvah project.
"Every mitzvah project is meaningful," Darren says. "However, at the heart screenings, one out of every 100 kids checked has some kind of heart condition. Therefore, it is likely that a project will result in a life saved or changed. In the words of the Talmud: And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world. Engaging in a project like this, where one can possibly save the life of another, exemplifies what it means to be an adult in the Jewish faith."