Alpha Xi Delta installs lifesaving AED

Sister’s story prompts safety precautions

By Melissa Proulx
On April 29, 2014

  • The sorority Alpha Xi Delta recently welcomed a new addition to their house — an AED. Member Andrea Karpinski was inspired to get one after a health scare in 2011. Melissa Proulx/Staff
  • Sisters of AZD sport their baby blue tees, created to raise money for the new AED. All 82 shirts quickly sold out at $20 a piece and sport symbols of the sorority, fire department and UNH. Melissa Proulx/Staff

No one could have known what was going on during dinner conversations that night when Andrea Karpinksi and Dave Blatchford ended up at the same table, but everyone knew afterwards that Andrea Karpinski's incredible story was going to end in triumph.

The two may have been randomly placed at the same table that night but for Blatchford, the story Karpinski told him was one that he would never forget.

It all started in November 2011, when Karpinski first met Blatchford, a Durham fire fighter and member of the Durham fire fighter's union, at a community outreach dinner at the Alpha Xi Delta sorority house. 

Karpinski, a junior double major in finance and economics at the time, told Blatchford about the heart condition that had taken the lives of both her mother and older sister when she was only 15 years old. The two had died three months apart from each other and for Karpinski, as she wrote later in a letter to Blatchford, her life "was turned upside down" during this time.

But her emotional battle did not end there. Only six months prior to the dinner, Karpinski went into ventricular fibrillation, a form of cardiac arrest in which the muscles of the heart twitch rather than contract fully, while running on a treadmill.

"I lost consciousness and was without oxygen for nine minutes before help arrived," Karpinski wrote in her letter.

Paramedics quickly arrived to the scene, regulating her heartbeat once again. Karpinski made a full recovery after the incident and chose to have an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD) surgically placed in her chest. The ICD is a tiny device that uses electric pulses or shocks to control heart arrhythmias. 

After her recovery, Karpinski decided to embark on a mission that could literally save a life.

"I now have a little electronic paramedic in my chest; however, the people I love, especially my sorority sisters, do not," she wrote in her letter to Blatchford. " ... it is my goal to get an AED device for our sorority house ... by graduation in May of 2013. I would also like every member of my chapter to participate in CPR and AED training so they feel comfortable using this device or performing CPR in an emergency situation."

"I looked at her and I told her, 'If you want it in the house, we'll get it done'," Blatchford said. "If you know anything about fire fighters, we start things instantly."

And thus, another battle began.

Karpinski, an already long-time volunteer and advocate for the American Heart Association, began telling her story to her sisters in order to show them that there was work to be done and lives to be saved. The many who heard it needed little convincing, especially Liz Lieblein, now a senior who was Karpinski's family tree "twin" while she was in the sorority.

"I knew there were things going on, but I didn't know all the pieces of the puzzle until she talked to the chapter," Lieblein said. "It's emotional to know someone you care about is so vulnerable."

Blatchford and his team of fire fighters from Durham N.H.'s Fire Department began thinking of ways to help the sorority raise money for the life-saving device, deciding finally to sell T-shirts. Featuring the defining symbols of the sorority, fire department, and even the UNH Wildcat itself, baby blue crew neck, short-sleeved tees featured and sold for $20 each, a price that was a little more expensive than usual but a way to ensure the group would raise the money faster.

The sorority was able to quickly sell all 82 of their T-shirts, enough to cover the cost of the AED and then some.

"[When it comes to being a sorority,] we have T-shirts for everything," said current AZD President, Alyssa Howard. "But with this one, I've never seen so many people willing to buy three or four at once."

But even after the AED was purchased, the end was still not in sight. The group had to cut through the red tape of the sorority's national housing organization, which was concerned that the device might be improperly used, thus making it a liability.

"At my very first executive meeting, Dave asked to come and he held up this packet of 100 pages (that showed it wasn't dangerous and should be allowed in the house)," Howard said. "When you think about it, it's really no different from having a fire extinguisher in the house."

After hours of debate and piles of paperwork, the device's installation was finally approved and it was placed in it's box right next to the front door of AZD's Strafford Avenue house on Friday, April 25 at a special celebration and ceremony. 

Though Karpinski was unable to attend the ceremony due to an unexpected extension of a business trip, that did not stop the handful members from Durham's fire department and the dozens of sisters who attended the event that proved to be the perfect end to the years long struggle.

"I can't believe this is finally happening," Howard said in a speech to the attendees. "Even though (Karpinski) has left, we did this all for her."

Alpha Phi, another sorority on campus, is expected to have an AED installed in their house soon. Blatchford said that his team hopes to have one placed in every Greek Life house on campus, though he is not sure how long it will take to achieve the goal. 

Howard says AZD plans to do their part of paying it forward as well by donating the leftover money from what they raised to the next house's fund.

"We've worked so hard on this because when we promise something, we stick with it," Blatchford said. "And now there will be two AED's on Strafford, two good things that came out of one conversation."

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