Haddonfield native Becky Wilby and Melissa Bergstrom lost their brother Bradford Wilby to a cardiac arrest in 2006, the result of a rare genetic disorder previously unknown to his family.
In his memory, Wilby’s parents and sisters started the Brad Wilby Foundation, which will hold its first post-COVID golf classic on Thursday, June 1, at Ramblewood Country Club in Mount Laurel.
Bradford Wilby was a 25-year-old 1999 alumnus of Haddonfield Memorial High School (HMHS) who played sports at Hobart and William Smith College in New York. He died while coaching men’s soccer.
“When my brother passed away, he was in a gym that did not have an AED (automated external defibrillator), and if there was one there, that possibly could have saved his life,” said Bergstrom.
Following his death, Wilby’s family learned that he had arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC), which causes ventricular arrhythmias. They in turn cause abnormal rhythms that make the heart’s lower chambers twitch instead of pump, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Symptoms of ARVC include heart palpitations, dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting. The disorder can increase the chance of death in young people, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The Brad Wilby Foundation had raised funds to provide scholarships for HMHS athletes, but shifted gears in 2009, after Bergstrom experienced a cardiac arrest of her own while she was pregnant. She was revived with an AED.
“If you’re doing a target activity or the heart races too high, (the heart) can get out of rhythm,” Bergstrom explained. “The AED gives it a shock and gets it back to a normal sinus rhythm.”
While the foundation raised more than $30,000 for the scholarships, it became more active in promoting awareness of AVRC after Bergstrom’s experience. The Wilby family has in recent years teamed with Johns Hopkins to raise funds for the purchase of multiple AEDs in Haddonfield and surrounding areas. They cost about $2,000 each.
“We’ve had multiple requests from within Haddonfield and surrounding communities asking for us to purchase and install AEDs for their facilities and organizations,” said Becky Wilby.
“My perception is that after (NFL football player) Damar Hamlin’s (on-field) collapse, people witnessed the difference that a rapid response can make,” she noted. “People are more aware of the need for those (AEDs), particularly at athletic facilities, ballfields, sports complexes.
“ … We’re hoping to raise enough funds to fulfill all of the requests for the local communities this year and get a jump start next year,” Wilby added. “We’re putting together an application process for organizations to apply through our website, because there’s a significant void in our local communities.”
The Brad Wilby Foundation golf classic is $125 for a single and $500 for a foursome playing 18 holes of golf. That includes breakfast and an event gift. Register by May 15 at https://www.bradwilby.org/golf-outing.