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Friday, June 02, 2023
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During a nationally televised NFL game, Damar Hamlin, a Buffalo Bills safety, collapsed following a routine tackle. The incident riveted the entire country’s attention. Thanks to the team of medics, CPR and other resuscitation measures were administered immediately. Unquestionably, they saved his life. Later, we learned that his cardiac arrest was an uncommon and freak occurrence. Despite the uncertainty surrounding his future football career, Hamlin appears to be on the road to recovery.

A sidebar to the incident is the amount of money donated through a GoFundMe account for Hamlin’s previously established toy drive. Around $9 million had been raised as of this writing, an awe-inspiring outpouring of generosity by the American people. According to a January 10, 2023 article by AP News, Hamlin “plans to support young people through education and sports” with the unexpected windfall. The AP story continues “He will also use proceeds from the sale of branded T-shirts, emblazoned with ‘Did We Win?’ along with his hands in the shape of a heart, to raise money for the trauma center in Cincinnati that treated him.”

In several ways, this incident was a teaching moment. Because of “wall-to-wall” media coverage of a major health emergency such as this, we watched the philanthropic spirit of the American people soar. This event became a breakthrough fundraiser, even if it was not intended that way. Life being what it is, people sometimes respond to adversity in unexpected and uplifting ways. It is times like these that bring out the finest qualities in humanity.

Emergency fundraisers don’t appeal to me and donors don’t want to be part of a sinking ship. However, it’s another front I wish to tackle (no pun intended). A medical emergency may arise during a fundraising event, so fundraisers should be prepared. Fundraising educators, seminars and webinars typically don’t cover this subject. It should be. Damar Hamlin’s case should serve as a wake-up call. Would you be prepared if something similar happened at your sit-down gala? It differs from physically active events such as bike tours, walk-a-thons or marathons in that paramedics are often present during those events.

Our nonprofits live in an uncertain era in which they must be prepared for any contingency. Terrorism, major accidents and other extreme situations have entered the picture nowadays, and there are also insurance consequences to consider. Mass casualties or immeasurable property damage can occur anywhere. Fundraisers cannot do much for these situations other than call 911, pray and hope. However, we are not discussing such extreme occasions here.

Instead, let me pose these questions. How do you handle a patron who chokes on food? Are you up to date with the Heimlich Maneuver? What if, like Damar Hamlin, a donor in attendance goes into cardiac arrest? A person might trip on the escalator carrying them to the banquet hall. Or they might take a nasty tumble and end up with a concussion, severe lacerations or even break a limb. Sometimes, as in the Hamlin case, mere minutes can mean the difference between life and death. It could also mean the difference between paralysis or another life-altering condition. What do you do?

I once witnessed a mass psychogenic illness event–also known as mass hysteria, epidemic hysteria or hysterical contagion. During services, members of my synagogue started experiencing symptoms that had no apparent medical cause. After one congregant fainted because of dehydration, five or six more people fainted for ostensibly no reason other than medical hysteria. The first lesson I learned was to never shout, “Is there a doctor in the house?” A proctologist and dentist rushed to the scene with no idea of what to do. If you must yell something, it should be “Is there an EMT or paramedic in the house?” since they are trained to handle such health-related emergencies.

For medical emergencies, there are some anticipatory measures you can learn, especially if you are first on the scene. This is not an exhaustive list, but it’s a starting point. Besides my certification in First Aid and CPR/AED, I also hold a Stop the Bleed course certification. Consider enrolling in similar courses.

Among the interim steps recommended by the Red Cross are:

1. Clear the area of any physical hazards.

2. Call or designate someone to call 911.

3. Until professionals arrive, introduce yourself to injured parties and make them comfortable.

4. Try to determine their symptoms.

5. Find out if they have any allergies.

6. Ask them what medications they take.

7. Get as much information as possible about their medical history.

8. Check to see what they last ate.

9. Identify the events that led to their current situation.

EMTs and paramedics will find this information helpful. You should be ready to convey what you found out while they are treating your guests.

So, stay safe, and as the Boy Scouts motto advises: “Be Prepared.”


Norman B. Gildin is the author of the popular book on nonprofit fundraising “Learn From My Experiences.” He is the President of Strategic Fundraising Group, whose singular mission is to assist nonprofits to raise critical funds for their organization. His website is www.normangildin.com.

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