Simon’s Fund Goes to the Final Four

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Simon’s Fund will be at the Final Four in Houston on Saturday to screen teens for heart defects.

College basketball supremacy goes on the line this weekend when the Final Four comes to NRG Stadium in Houston, but something even bigger could be on the line just a few miles away at the Aldine School: lives.

 

That’s where Hoops Heart Screening — a free center for testing teens to uncover heart defects — will hold center court.


It’s sponsored by Simon’s Fund, the Philadelphia-based organization created by a bereaved couple after losing their 3-month-old son to sudden cardiac arrest.

That’s something no test could screen, but statistical studies have shown the screening can detect several defects, including the arrhythmia known as Long QT Syndrome, which is responsible for 15 percent of all Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) deaths.

For Darren Sudman and his wife, Phyllis, who desperately wanted to do something so no one else would endure the same anguish, it could not only save the person being screened, but potentially any children to follow.

“It has given us a way to keep our son alive,” explained Darren Sudman, who tells the heart-wrenching story of how he and his wife were in the room watching Simon sleep on Jan. 24, 2005 — only he never woke up. “We’ve used this as a vehicle to grieve and give back

“We’ve screened over 13,000, and about 100 have been diagnosed with the defect — less than 1 percent. These conditions are detectable and treatable. We want people to start looking for it.”

While Phyllis Sudman grew up in Huntingdon Valley and attended Congregation Adath Jeshurun in Melrose Park, where she became a Bat Mitzvah, Darren Sudman comes from Cincinnati. They met at The Ohio State University, eventually moving back to this area so she could be closer to home. Their daughter, Sally, was born in 2002. On Oct. 21, 2004 came Simon.

Following his death, the Sudmans started the charity, which has evolved for Darren Sudman from something he did on the side — when not teaching — into a full time job as executive director.

The fund — with help from numerous generous donors — conducts nine of these screenings annually, mostly within the Delaware Valley. While Long QT Syndrome is what’s frequently  detected, it’s hardly the only one. Phyllis Sudman subsequently discovered she was symptomatic for Long QT Syndrome and has been taking medication ever since.

In 2013, the Sudmans decided to take their potential life-saving “act” on the road.

That’s when the Final Four was in Atlanta, where they set up a nearby center. In 2014, they went to the women’s Final Four in Nashville, then back to the men’s “Big Dance” last year in Indianapolis.

Now it’s onto Houston, where Darren Sudman will enjoy the cooperation of the medical community.

Texas Children’s Hospital will provide cardiologists, nurses, EKG technicians and echocardiogram technicians at no cost. In addition, Simon’s Fund will join forces with two other charitable organizations, Cody Stephens’ “Go Big or Go Home” and “Who We Play For,” to defray costs.

They’ll conduct the clinic from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, April 3 — meaning folks can attend the Saturday night doubleheader, go to the screening and then stick around for Monday’s championship game.

“We spend a large majority of our time in Philadelphia, because there’s more than enough kids to screen here.” Darren Sudman said. “But we’ll go to other places when there’s a unique opportunity. This is the fourth year we’re hosting a heart screening in a Final Four location.

“In the past, we’ve averaged 200 to 300 students. Each screening takes about a half hour or so. There have been a couple of news segments down there to get people informed. The school district sent notices to the parents and we’ve reached out to the youth sports organizations.”

None of it, of course, will bring Simon back. But it has given the Sudmans, who adopted a baby boy named Jaden from Guatemala in 2007, and those like them some kind of solace.

“Simon’s death changed me profoundly,” said Darren Sudman, who originally was a lawyer. “I don’t know where that change stopped and where the change to the fund begins, but it’s given us a purpose.

“It’s given us a way to carry on his name; to give back and repair the world.”

The outpouring of support within the Jewish community — including Phyllis Sudman’s current congregation, Or Ami, in Lafayette Hill — has left a lasting impact. But not as great as the impact Simon continues to leave.

“For me, one of the really amazing things has been the number of Bar and Bat Mitzvah projects over the years where kids have selected Simon’s Fund,” she said. “There are no words to really explain how much this has meant to me.

“It’s been an incredible journey and a way to keep Simon’s memory alive. I’ve said this so many times, but it’s true. This little boy who was just 3 months old has had a bigger impact on so many more lives than most people do in their lifetime.”

Saturday in Houston, Villanova, Oklahoma, North Carolina and Syracuse go after college basketball’s biggest prize. But for whoever comes out on top, the celebration will only last for so long.

But the celebration for those lives already saved thanks to Simon’s Fund — and those saved in the future — will last forever.

Contact: jmarks@jewishexponent.com; 215-832-0729

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