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'How could his heart just stop?'

  • Story Highlights
  • Robbie Levine died at age 9 after running the bases at a Little League practice
  • His parents set up a foundation in his memory to raise defibrillator awareness
  • Automatic defibrillators can help make the difference between life and death
  • She has helped put 100-plus defibrillators on playing fields around the U.S.
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MERRICK, New York (CNN) -- "This is a healthy 9-year-old boy. How in the world could his heart just stop?"


Robbie Levine died at age 9 after running the bases at a Little League game.

Standing in the emergency room the night of September 27, 2005, that's the question Jill Levine kept asking herself. She'd just gotten news that she found impossible to comprehend: Her eldest son, Robbie, a fourth grader, had died.

About an hour earlier, Robbie had been running the bases at Little League practice near their home in Merrick, a suburb of New York City. Levine's husband, Craig, who coached the team, was standing at first base when Robbie ran by him.

"I remember thinking I'd never seen him run so fast," he recalled.

But seconds later, he turned to see that his son had collapsed right on home plate. Craig Levine ran to Robbie's side, realized that Robbie didn't have a pulse and began administering CPR. Several minutes passed before an ambulance arrived. Robbie was pronounced dead at the hospital.

With two other young children, Jill Levine says she didn't give herself the option to become paralyzed with grief after her tragic loss. Instead, she took action.

"I knew that [Robbie] could have had a chance if there was a defibrillator," she says.

So for the past 2 years, Levine has dedicated herself to raising awareness about the need for these cardiac devices in youth sports, which she does through her Robbie Levine Foundation, co-founded with her husband.

Automated external defibrillators -- also known as AEDs -- administer electrical shocks that can restore a heart to its normal rhythm. When used in conjunction with CPR, these machines can make the difference between life and death.

The American Heart Association reports that after sudden cardiac arrest, every minute without CPR and defibrillation reduces survival by 7-10 percent.

More than 165,000 adults die from sudden cardiac arrest each year, according to the heart association. While statistics aren't kept regarding the number of children who experience such incidents, some states have laws requiring defibrillators in schools.

Yet Levine believes that if an incident occurs on a playing field, even having a defibrillator in a nearby school building might not be enough.

"Literally every minute counts," she stresses. "When you're out using a field, it's too far away." Video Watch Levine recall the personal tragedy that motivated her to take action »

Through her foundation, Levine works to convince youth sports leagues to buy defibrillators and get people trained to operate them. She spends her days sending out an educational DVD produced by her foundation and talking to parents and coaches.

Since defibrillators cost between $1,200 and $1,600, her foundation often donates one to a league that commits to starting a program. But even so, Levine often encounters resistance.

"The biggest obstacles that we face are people's fears," she says. "But I just keep repeating over and over again: 'If it's not there, it can't help.' " Video Watch Levine and her husband describe some misperceptions about defibrillators »

Levine's goal is to make defibrillators mandatory safety equipment for youth sports, like a batting helmet in baseball. To date, she has raised approximately $200,000 and has helped put more than 100 defibrillators on playing fields around the country. Video Watch Levine explain some ways to help keep young athletes safe »


For Levine, keeping other kids safe is the best way to honor Robbie.

"This horrific thing happened to us," she says. "All I can do is make it so that no other family ever has to go through this."

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