Interview with Shawn Sima, Who We Play For


Shawn: My name is Shawn Sima and I’m the impact Director for a non-profit called Who We Play For. My story: I’m a retired Air Force physician’s assistant; I’m originally from Jacksonville, Florida, and now I live down in Merritt Island, Florida, a suburb of Melbourne. I retired from the Air Force in 2012 and in 2016, my seemingly, super healthy, athlete daughter, Lexi, who never had a medical problem went to the gym one day after leaving the softball game to get ready for cheer tryouts, and within 30 seconds of getting on the treadmill she suffered Sudden Cardiac Arrest.

She was in a gym, thankfully. Usually, she ran outside. Running behind her that night was also another retired guy from the Air Force, who worked in one of his Space companies, and he was forced to take CPR. It was a requirement; he is not medical. For two weeks before my daughter collapsed in front of him, he had taken CPR [training course]. The AED that was hanging on the wall, up to about three weeks before my daughter collapsed, had a dead battery and pads in it, and as the good Lord would have it, the gym owner noticed that the green light wasn’t working on the machine, and he changed out the battery and pads. And that night, a bunch of non-medical people worked together to save my daughter’s life.

It was 15 minutes before the ambulance got there and they had a pulse. She was breathing, literally, within about 3 to 5 minutes, and I know had it not been for those bystanders it would be a different story. She was life-flighted to Orlando, and she was put in a medically induced coma, and we waited for three days. Our cardiologist told us if she woke up, and her brain was whole, and she didn’t have any significant brain damage that before she walked out of the hospital, she would need to have an implanted defibrillator pacemaker, and that’s exactly what happened. And over those three days he sort of put us on this mission, you know I’m someone has done 1000s of school physicals on kids, but until my own daughter collapsed there while 1. I wasn’t really doing anything to protect their hearts, and 2. that CPR and AEDs are essential everywhere and that’s sort of what opened our eyes, and you know we made a lot of deals with God that night. My daughter is one out of ten that survive Sudden Cardiac Arrest, and he answered our prayers and that put us on a mission to pay it forward and give other families a chance to have a “Lexi Sima” story.

Jenna: So then that experience lead you to meet Who We Play For; your paths crossed there?

Shawn: Yeah, so Who We Play For, actually about nine years before Lexi went down, Who We Play For was started in honor of a boy name Rafe Maccarone, who was also from this same area as us, and he, too, was a super athlete. Never had one medical problem and was a superstar soccer player at Cocoa Beach High School and they were running for warm-ups, and he wasn’t even running all that hard, but he collapsed and had some cardiac arrest. His story web the exact opposite of Lexi. There was really nobody there that knew CPR; the AED was locked up in the administrative building. This was after school hours, and so he laid there for 20 minutes. The ambulance on its way got stuck in mud and by the time they got there 20 minutes to passed. They actually were able to shock his heart back, but his brain had been too long without oxygen and then he died. He died in the same hospital that my daughter was saved him and this is all started Who We Play For in his honor, and we are one of the biggest heart screening non-profits in the United States, and we’ve saved over 250 kids. We have the first nine counties in America to require heart screenings with an EKG for athletes to play sports, and our county was the first and you know since that requirement came in about 2019, so I guess it’s almost 4 years ago, we have about 140 kids, who’ve had their lives saved with these heart screening exams, after they passed their physicals.

Jenna: Wow, that’s amazing! That’s a big milestone.

Shawn: Yeah, it’s very very humbling to be on this path, if you will, to really help other kids, and really parents. Parents that think their kids are safe when they walk out of out of the doctor’s office from folks like me, and we do the best we can in the clinic, but I have just learned the hard way that the stethoscope is not going to catch most things. I won’t even say some things – most things a stethoscope is not going to catch, and that’s why we hear about these kids that keep passing away.

Jenna: Absolutely. So, what advice do you have for those parents whose kids are out there seemingly healthy, playing athletics?

Shawn: Yeah, coming from a father of a Sudden Cardiac Arrest victim, and also as a clinician who’s down these physicals, I would really fight for 1. I would fight for an ECG or an EKG. They’re the same thing it’s just, you know, Germany calls it EKG; we call it ECG, but I would fight to get my kid an ECG heart screen, and it before I drop my kid off anywhere – especially school, or at a sporting event. I would get out of the car, and I would go find out who knows CPR and where is the AED. Because it’s not if, but when.

Shawn: On average, approximately 20 kids a day drop dead in our country from Sudden Cardiac Arrest, and if the coach is not ready, and the AED is not available, it’s not gonna be a good outcome. So that would be my biggest piece of advice is 1. do everything you can to prevent it, and identify it, but when it does happen, you want to have people that are ready to jump in the action because we know you have 3 to 5 minutes to really do something to give someone the best chance of survival. And the study show, especially in young kids, that if you can get an AED on them within three minutes, there’s a 90% chance, 89.6 blah blah, basically a 90% chance that that kid is going to get off the ground and walk out of the hospital like my daughter did. And right now, the average is one in ten, so only you know, only one out of 10 kids because, you know, survive Sudden Cardiac Arrest and we have to do better.

Jenna: Absolutely. It’s all about learning what to do and having accessibility to the devices that you need. You recently went to Washington DC rallying for accessibility for AEDs in schools. Tell us a little bit about that.

Shawn: Yeah, so a crazy thing about that law is we actually started that bill about four years ago. That was initially introduced by a congressman by the name of Al Lawson from Jacksonville Florida, and then on the Republican side, Bill Posey, who is our congressman in for Brevard County, Florida, and it turned out that the congressman Lawson lost his election, and another lady from down in Miami took her took it up on the Democrat side. Then Damar Hamlin happened, and that just put us on a rocket ship. Now, you know, the American Heart Association took over the bill. We have all of the professional sports leagues; [they] are endorsers on the bill. Damar Hamlin, you know, he is the ray of sunshine, if you will, in the United States and really introduced, and opened a lot of eyes, to Sudden Cardiac Arrest, so we were proud ; the AHA took it, Damar Hamlin has a lot to do with it, but we were proud to go to Washington DC and stand next to him, and the CEO of the American Heart Association, several congressmen were there; the Senate Majority Leader was there Chuck Schumer, and we are going to pass this law. And it’s amazing to think that that law started in our little podunk town of Cocoa Beach, and three weeks ago we were standing in a room with people that it was not even believable that we were in that room, but that’s, you know, going to be probably the most life-saving law to pass in our country.

Y’all know that there’s only 17 states in the US that have any kind of AED law for their schools, and this is the leading cause of death on school campus, and we’re not ready. So, you know, having this money available for schools to be able to get grants, and to reach out to be able to buy AEDs and protect our students. There’s nothing. The stat is one out of twenty-five US schools is going to have somebody drop dead on their campus and to have only 17 states with any kind of legislation, it’s just mind blowing. Really, what this law is going to do, there’s a lot of things in that law, but this is huge for the Sudden Cardiac Arrest movement, and really, ultimately, that movement is about giving kids a chance at life. Not only does it talk about money for AEDs it talks about emergency response plan in schools and introduces what we do, the heart screening program to athletic departments. Believe it or not, there’s not even a database that you can really trust to catch all of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest in our country, so this bill also has language in there for that, too. So, it’s a really robust bill, and we’re just so proud to be a part of it.

When I think of what happened to my daughter, and then the flash forward now, there’s no question, and luckily for us, my daughter survived. But there’s no question why we were put on this mission and it’s really really surreal to be a part of it, and to meet up with companies like you that support us, and carry us, and help us do what we do. Money is always an issue, but to have partners like you all in and several others, in different arenas is just huge for this movement.

Jenna: Absolutely. You guys are doing a beautiful thing for the whole industry. I mean it’s just amazing what you guys are doing out there, rallying. Is there any way that we, and our viewers, can help in your mission? Is there any way we can support you guys?

Shawn: Yes, I need everybody watching this, no matter what town you live in, you have a congressman, a US congressman, and you have a US senator. Every state has two, as we know. So, anybody who’s watching this and sees this, I need you to please either pick up the phone or send your representative, your Congress person, or senator a quick email for them to support and even co-sponsor the Access to AEDs Act. It’s bipartisan, there’s no politics in this on, you know, the left or the right. Everybody agrees that this is one of the most important things that we can do to protect our children. This is a feel-good bill. There should be no arguing, you know, political this and political that. This is a feel-good bill that is truly going to save lives. There’s nothing that they can pass that will save lives like this, especially of our most precious resource, and it’s our children. Please, if you heard nothing else, I know I talk a lot, but please, help us by reaching out to your local congressman and senators to support this at the federal level.

Jenna: Amazing. Thank you so much for speaking with me today, sharing your experience, and what you’re doing now in the community. It’s amazing what you’re doing, and we hope we can support you in anyway.

Shawn: God bless and thank you very much for all you guys do for helping us.


Blog By Jenna AlvichWritten by Jenna Alvich
Digital Marketing Manager
Jenna was raised in Dublin, Ohio before she moved to Florida and attended Florida State University to earn a degree in Information, Communication, and Technology. She took her retail management and marketing experience to Nashville where she found CoroMed and grew passionate about the AED industry. Jenna is American Red Cross Adult AED/CPR and Infant CPR certified and strives to spread CPR and AED awareness through all platforms. When she’s not working, you can find her hanging out with her dog, on an adventure with friends in the city, or kayaking on the river.

Last updated May 16, 2023