Save A Life Foundation (SALF) - 1995 Chicago Tribune profile & correction
- From: WackerDrive@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Sun, 11 Jan 2009 04:41:53 -0800 (PST)
The beginnings of SALF are rather dramatic. In 1992, the daughter of a
nurse named Carol Spizzirri was killed in a car crash in Illinois. As
Spizzirri tells it, her daughter's arm was severed and she bled to
death while cops simply looked on. "I asked [the police officer] what
he did for my daughter, and he said his duty was to direct traffic,"
Spizzirri told a reporter. "I said, 'Your duty is to maintain life!'"
Learning that officers and emergency personnel weren't required to be
certified in first aid and CPR, she campaigned in Illinois and other
states to change that.
A good cause, to be sure. However, her account is not entirely
accurate. In 1995, the Chicago Tribune published a correction on a
profile of Spizzirri that revealed her daughter hadn't died at the
scene, but in a hospital more than an hour after the accident. Her arm
hadn't been severed; she had suffered from a massive "depressed" skull
fracture. The officers hadn't "balked" at helping the girl. Her
injuries were so severe that no first aid likely could have saved her.
Yet the Tribune story, minus its correction, was picked up by
newspapers around the nation. Spizzirri became famous, and SALF, with
the help of celebrity endorsements from stars such as David
Hasselhoff, grew larger.
MOTHER ON A MISSION - FIRST AID MIGHT HAVE SAVED HER DAUGHTER; NOW,
CAROL SPIZZIRRI IS A RELENTLESS CRUSADER
January 16, 1995
Author: Julie Deardorff
Section: TEMPO, page 1
"The Lord said, 'My precious child, I never left you during your time
of trial. Where you see only one set of footprints, I was carrying
you.'" - "Footprints in the Sand"
It's after a fresh snowfall when the footprints first materialize,
solitary steps that mark the way to Christina Spizzirri's grave.
Usually the impressions in the earth are about nine inches long.
Evenly spaced. And formed by the quick, purposeful stride of
Christina's mother, Carol.
"This is my girl," Carol Spizzirri whispered one afternoon, after
shoveling off the black marble gravemarker and brushing snow away from
the last verse to Christina's favorite poem, "Footprints in the Sand."
Oblivious to the wet snow seeping through her black dress shoes and
nylons, Spizzirri gazed around the cemetery she passes each time she
leaves her Grayslake home.
"I can still feel her hand. And I see her everywhere. Her hair at the
grocery store. Her smile. Red was her favorite color. But there are
others here. This cemetery is full of children. I'm not the only one
who has lost one."
Because of that sad truth, and because her own 18-year-old daughter
died in a car accident when basic first aid might have saved her life,
Spizzirri's steps have grown larger and taken her much farther than
her daughter's grave.
Now she is angrily chasing politicians from Springfield to Washington,
and running the Save a Life Foundation, which is fighting to pass
legislation requiring training in first aid and cardiopulmonary
resuscitation for police, firefighters, teachers, public safety
workers and emergency dispatchers.
Christina, of course, was her inspiration. First aid might have helped
the girl after her arm was severed in a crash on U.S. Highway 41 near
Waukegan on Labor Day 1992.
The first police officers on the scene balked at administering aid. By
the time the paramedics arrived, Christina had bled to death on the
"I asked (the police officer) what he did for my daughter, and he said
his duty was to direct traffic," said Spizzirri, recalling the
inquest. "I said, `Your duty is to maintain life!'"
When Spizzirri found out that police and fire personnel in Illinois,
like other states, were not required to be certified in first aid and
CPR, nor were they required to assist in a medical emergency, she was
appalled and infuriated.
"Ninety percent of the time, police and firemen arrive at a scene
first," she said while flipping through her research: statistics on
death and injuries to schoolchildren, letters from congressmen and
news clippings. In an instant, she can fax out more than 60 pages of
data supporting her cause to interested parties.
"No one was there to teach me how to lobby. I'm just a mother on a
mission from God. Like the Blues Brothers."
But it's a crusade that has cost her at least $60,000 of savings over
two years, her administrative job at Woodland School District 50,
friendships with her neighbors (who she said grew weary of her
relentless crusading), and her marriage to second husband Dave
Spizzirri. The two divorced a year ago.
"If you met me at a party and I told you my story, how good would that
make you feel?" Spizzirri asked. "I tell everyone about my cause. All
the time. I am obsessed with this, and Dave realized there is no other
room in my life except my children and Save a Life."
On the outside, Spizzirri is tireless and determined, a 48-year-old
woman with shoulder-length blond hair and faint weary lines under her
warm coffee-colored eyes.
At Christmas, her house was cheerfully decorated, both inside and out.
Most striking, though, were her interior walls, covered with an
incalculable number of pictures of her three daughters, Carlotta, 25,
Christina, and Ciprina, 15, the only one left at home.
"At first I was just going along with everything, but now I'm behind
Mom all the way," said Ciprina, a sophomore at Warren High School. "I
do reports about CPR, and my best friend learned it too."
But the house "no longer reeks with laughter," said Spizzirri, and she
lights an occasional cigarette to get through difficult moments.
When grief threatens to break her, she copes by talking aboutSave a
Life, which she runs from Ciprina's old bedroom, now an office
cluttered with donated computer equipment.
"Only 7 percent of 911 dispatchers are trained, for fear of lawsuits,"
Spizzirri recited. "We lose 200,000 children a year due to accidents,
not including violence. Fifty percent of those children could be saved
with prompt emergency reactions."
"I stepped on a lot of people's toes," she admitted. "Lobbying efforts
are very technical and no one was willing to teach me."
She plunged ahead anyway and set up the foundation in January 1993.
Then she approached officials from Lake County like state Sen. Adeline
Geo-Karis, state Rep. Robert Churchill and state Rep. Andrea Moore,
but couldn't find anyone to call her back, let alone sponsor
So she turned Downstate and approached state Rep. Chuck Hartke (D-
Effingham). Hartke listened and agreed to sponsor a bill that would
mandate police, firefighters and teachers to be trained in first aid
"Ever try to give CPR to yourself?" asked Hartke, who is also trained
in the lifesaving technique. "It's impossible. All we had to do was
convince the majority that it was important and find the funds to do
"I don't think (Spizzirri) totally understands that not everyone has
that as their No. 1 priority. Her persistence and her almost
unbelievable simplistic approach is what was surprising."
The legislation, which Moore and Churchill later helped sponsor,
fizzled, ending in the formation of a task force to study the issue.
Undeterred, she marched over to the Senate and campaigned in the
hallway of the Capitol, preaching to anyone who walked by.
At the Illinois State Fair, she ambushed politicians, including U.S.
Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.). She interrupted U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley-
Braun (D-Ill.) during a press interview to explain Save a Life and
showed Moseley-Braun the 8-by-10-inch framed graduation photo of
Christina, which she carries on lobbying trips.
Then she spotted Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar at the fair on a golf cart
and chased him for four blocks, calling, "Governor, you and I have to
talk!" before he listened to her story.
"I had to convince every politician individually," Spizzirri said. "I
kept going back to every office because they would say, `Oh yeah, I
agree,' but then do nothing."
Celebrities also helped and she snagged support from former teen
heartthrob Bobby Sherman and David Hasselhoff, star of the television
Hasselhoff not only agreed to be the honorary chairman of "Save a Life
Day," but also taped a public service announcement encouraging people
to sign up for classes.
Then Spizzirri received backing from groups like the National Safety
Council, the American Red Cross, the Illinois Department of Health and
the Illinois State Police, which already required regular
recertification of its officers in CPR and first aid.
Not everyone was thrilled with Spizzirri's efforts. Some police groups
and the Municipal League argued that such a mandate would be too
costly. According to Spizzirri, it would amount to about $1.5 million
"Where I have some question is the cost of retraining," said Lake
County Sheriff Clinton Grinnell.
"Also, putting it into practice in the field is going to take some
thought. The first officer on the scene has a lot of responsibility.
One is to protect the area and make sure someone isn't driving through
the people already injured."
But Spizzirri's persistence paid off. In September, Edgar signed a law
that requires Illinois police officers and firefighters to be trained
in first aid and CPR before graduating from their academies.
Edgar proclaimed Feb. 26 "Save a Life Day," and Illinois hospitals
provided training and certification in CPR and first aid to the
public, many at no charge.
Also in September, President Clinton signed an appropriations bill
introduced by U.S. Rep. Richard Durbin of Springfield. The legislation
allows all states to use grant money from the National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration to fund CPR and first aid training programs.
To finish the year, Spizzirri in December met with Hillary Rodham
Clinton's staff about Save a Life, and is now preparing a proposal for
"I dialed the wrong number but when I realized it was the First Lady's
office, I told them my story," Spizzirri said. "I sent information,
then I got a phone call back and was told they made photocopies of my
material and walked it over to Hillary."
But it's not enough for Spizzirri, because the new Illinois law says
nothing about recertification, which is ideally done every two years.
And Spizzirri would like to see airline attendants, bus drivers,
dentists, 911 phone answerers, teachers-everyone-trained. She suggests
it could be mandatory to receive CPR training with a driver's license.
"She wanted all teachers to be trained-not just health teachers,"
Hartke said. "Some look at that as another requirement, another
mandate to dump on teachers-`How many 2nd graders do you know have had
a heart attack?' "
But history shows training the masses is possible and effective. In
1971 Seattle started offering free CPR classes by trained fire
department personnel, and by 1988, 35 percent of the adult population
was trained. Currently, about two-thirds of Seattle adults are trained
in CPR, and the statistics speak for themselves.
The heart attack survival rate in Seattle is 30 percent, according to
the Journal of the American Medical Association. New York's is 5.3
percent while Chicago's is a dismal 4 percent.
Some days it seems as if no one listens to Spizzirri. Others, she sees
signs of progress. The Gurnee Fire Department offers at least 20 CPR
classes per month and they fill one month in advance.
The legislators she has pestered have gone to certification classes
themselves, realizing they often speak in front of large crowds. A
group of Illinois high school referees offered a CPR training class in
November and would like to see all officials trained.
Save a Life Day has turned into Save a Life Week, which will be Feb.
20 through 27, co-sponsored by the Illinois Hospital Association.
And the spirited Spizzirri has two more bills in the works, one
drafted by U.S. Rep. Gerry Studds (D-Mass.) to amend the Public Health
Service Act, and another by state Senate President James "Pate"
Phillip, who she said has agreed to sponsor legislation. Both bills
would expand the scope of training.
There's no telling how long she'll continue her crusade, but Spizzirri
simply has to pass the cemetery on her way home or walk upstairs to
remember why she's fighting.
Her middle daughter's bedroom is intact-preserved exactly as she left
it when she dashed out of the house for the last time. The closet is
full of dresses, and dust is gathering on the frame of "Footprints in
the Sand," which still hangs on the wall.
"She's still here, in me," Spizzirri said, her voice dropping to a
"She's done a lot for humanity. Even in her death.
Caption: PHOTOS: Carol Spizzirri visits the grave of her daughter
Christina, whose arm was severed in a car accident in 1992. By the
time paramedics arrived, she had bled to death.
PHOTO: Carol Spizzirri at Christina's grave: ``I can still feel her
hand. And I see her everywhere,'' she says.
Chicago Tribune, Feb. 7, 1995:
CORRECTIONS AND CLARIFICATIONS
A story in the Jan. 16 Tempo section about the crusade of Carol
Spizzirri of Grayslake to require police, firefighters, teachers,
public-safety workers and emergency dispatchers to be trained in first
aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation contained some errors because it
did not include details of official documents concerning the case that
precipitated her campaign.
Spizzirri told the Tribune that her daughter, Christina Pratt, 18, had
bled to death on a Lake County highway following a traffic accident in
which the girl's arm was severed. According to a coroner's inquest,
however, Spizzirri's daughter died in a hospital, more than an hour
after the accident, of multiple traumatic injuries, including a
depressed skull fracture in the back of her head. Also, according to
Chief Deputy Coroner James Wipper, her arm was not severed in the
accident, although Spizzirri maintains that it was.
The story also said that the first police officers at the scene of the
accident "balked" at administering first aid, implying that they
should have administered it, and that "basic first aid might have
saved her life." In fact, the officers are not trained, certified or
required to perform first aid, and given the official cause of death,
it is unlikely that basic first aid would have saved her.
The Tribune regrets the error.
Copyright 1995, Chicago Tribune