Red Cross to honor Norwich residents, Conn College security guard

Asked how she feels about an upcoming award the American Red Cross is slated to give her, Evelyn Pontbriant was nothing short of humble.

“We’re surprised,” said Pontbriant, of Norwich, who will receive the Community Hero Award along with her husband, Larry, next month in Hartford. “It really does seem as though there are other groups and people that would be much more worthy than us.”

But it’s thanks to Larry and Evelyn Pontbriant that 97 more Automated External Defibrillators, or AEDs, exist in Connecticut now than did 10 years ago. They’re in school hallways, at ice rinks and ballparks, on campgrounds and in other locations, ready for someone to make quick use of, should an emergency arise.

For the past decade, the Pontbriants have made the proliferation of AEDs their mission. Back in 2007, their son, also Larry, collapsed right in front of them, a victim of sudden cardiac arrest. Fit and healthy, he was participating in a 3-mile fun run at Mohegan Park in Norwich, his hometown.

Their son received CPR right away, but what he needed was an AED — sudden cardiac arrest doesn’t damage the heart, it just stops its signals.

It would be more than 20 minutes before EMTs arrived with one. Three days later, in the hospital, Larry died. He was 15.

The Pontbriants started the Larry Pontbriant Athletic Safety Fund not long after Larry’s passing, as individuals from near and far felt compelled to donate money to their cause. The goals of the fund, which is managed by the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, are three: to raise awareness about sudden cardiac arrest, to encourage training in CPR and the use of AEDs and to raise funds for the purchase of AEDs.

The hope, according to the fund’s website, is that “someday, somewhere, someone will get a second chance at life because an individual recognized a cardiac arrest was occurring, could perform CPR effectively and had access to an AED.”

Evelyn Pontbriant said she and her husband haven’t heard of a situation where one of the donated AEDs had to be used.

“I kind of hope we never do,” she said. “It’s a nice insurance policy to have them around, but I hope they never have to be used.”

Saturday marked 10 years since Larry’s death. Looking back, Pontbriant said she’s surprised the fund and its biggest fundraiser — an annual 5K memorial run — still are running.

The fund, she explained, was small to begin with. By now, she thought donations might have stopped coming in. But this year’s 5K again drew more than 100 runners. And, just last month, her son’s former youth and high school lacrosse teammates put on a memorial game in Montville — the second time they’ve done so. They donated the entry fees to his fund.

“It took a lot of people to get the Larry Pontbriant Athletic Safety Fund up and running,” Pontbriant said, adding that the Red Cross award should be considered an honor for all of them. “The fact it’s continued on so long is really just a nice tribute to Larry’s character.”

Connecticut College security guard Eric Roode also will receive an award at the luncheon in Hartford next month. Dubbed the Emergency Services Hero Award, the honor goes to Roode because in January he performed CPR and used an AED on a coworker, possibly saving his life.

It was Jan. 17 when Roode, an 11-year employee of the college, responded to a campus dorm and found a 68-year-old man showing signs of a heart attack.

Although he hadn’t used an AED in an emergency in the past, he didn’t hesitate to do so then.

“Every day you have to be prepared, and we are,” Roode said a day after the incident. “I felt good.”

President Katherine Bergeron, who presented Roode with a Recognition of Valor during the college's annual Presidential Staff Recognition Awards event this spring, said Roode's quick and effective response was "critical in this situation."

"I was very pleased to recognize his life-saving efforts during a special awards ceremony at the college, and I am thrilled that he will be named an American Red Cross Hero," she said.

Other honorees include:

  • Thomas Brown and Patrick Mainolfi of New Canaan High School, who used skills they learned as former state employees to save a choking student.
  • Robert Estrada of Granby and his organization Endurance 4 Veterans, which helps veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder through physical fitness.
  • Ken Boudreau of Simsbury, a volunteer firefighter who has donated more than 300 units of platelets/plasma to the Red Cross.
  • Charter Communications, which plays a large role in supporting the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign. Its Spectrum Housing Assist initiative provides education, resources and financial support to ensure residents across the country can live in safe and healthy homes.

l.boyle@theday.com

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