FLUSHING, MI —At seventeen years old, Tommy Smith thought he had his whole life ahead of him. College was on the horizon as he looked ahead to a career as a physical therapist.
Those dreams were tragically cut short in January of 2011 when Tommy died from a Sudden Cardiac Arrest event, due to an undiagnosed heart condition.
Today, his parents Jonathan and Mary, and brother Jacob are seeking to keep the dreams of other teens like Tommy’s alive. In his memory, they created the Thomas Smith Memorial Foundation.
Thomas, the Boy with the Golden Touch
Honor student. Varsity football player. Drummer. Loving friend to all.
These are the words that Mary uses as she speaks of her son Tommy.
Passionate about football, he always made sure to give it his all. He loved being a percussionist in his high school band. But when it overlapped with football, he gave it up to continue strong as an athlete. School came easy to Tommy and rarely did he even have to bring home a textbook from class. He was a scholar-athlete who knew how to excel on and off the field. Well-loved at Flushing High School, students say he made a point to befriend everyone.
“Tommy was always looking out for the little guy & he hated bullies,” said Mary. She recalls hearing of how Tommy befriended one young man in particular who was struggling to fit in.
“One day Tommy went up to him and said ‘Hi, I’m Tom Smith. What’s your name?’ The young man said from that day forward everyone wanted to be his friend because he was a friend of Tom Smith.”
That was who Tommy was.
Tommy was accepted to every college he applied for. And he was looking forward to studying physical therapy. He wanted to help people heal because, as an athlete, he knew the injuries that often came with life’s passions.
“Everything he touched seemed to turn to gold,” says Mary. “All of it was gone in a matter of seconds.”
A Lack of Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness
On January 29th, 2011, Tommy collapsed from a Sudden Cardiac Arrest event which ultimately took his life. He had an enlarged heart that no one even knew to check for. Tommy had undergone sports physicals during his eight-year athletic career. He had even been to the doctor four times the year before his death. But a preventative heart screen was never performed or mentioned.
“The only way we would have known he was sick was to have a heart screening,” said Mary. Sadly, there were none available in their area. There wasn’t even any awareness that Sudden Cardiac Arrest was a real concern for youth.
Though the pain of losing Tommy was beyond overwhelming for the family, they knew they had to do something to prevent future tragedies. And that’s when they formed the Thomas Smith Memorial Foundation just nine months later.
How the Smiths are Saving Lives
Tommy made an impact in the lives of those he encountered everywhere he went. Whether it was at school, in church, or on the field. So much so that over 400 students attended a vigil held for him one day after his passing. Over 800 students came out for his funeral a week later.
One young man even walked two miles in a snowstorm just to tell the Smiths the impact Tommy had on him.
This is one of many stories that came soon after Tommy’s passing.
“Tommy’s friends were so supportive that we were overwhelmed,” said Mary. She, Jonathan, and Jacob are now seeking to carry on his legacy.
They continue to impact the surrounding community with the goal of saving future lives.
Working throughout Midwest Michigan, the Thomas Smith Memorial Foundation offers free preventative heart screenings to all students. And the impact has been incredible.
“Our very first screening event brought our first save,” said Mary.
A 14-year-old young man made the choice to come to the event for a preventative heart screening. A life-threatening heart condition was discovered. Thanks to that screen, he had corrective surgery and now lives a full life.
That’s all thanks to the work of the Thomas Smith Memorial Foundation. They’ve screened thousands of youth. And of those, 32 have been found to have life-altering heart conditions.
Sudden Cardiac Arrest Prevention is Possible
The Smiths are also active in donations of Automated External Defibrillators (AED) throughout their community. This is the device needed to potentially save a life in the event of a Sudden Cardiac Arrest.
Thanks to these donations, they have saved two adults and an 18-year old YMCA camp counselor.
The Smiths firmly believe education is key to saving the lives of youth in their community. That’s why they are passionate about spreading awareness and advocating for further education. Their message goes with them everywhere. From a booth at the high school football games to local fairs and festivals. They want everyone to know the dangers they never knew about. They provide vital information on CPR and AED training. Presentations are also given to local groups and organizations.
Perhaps their most important work, the Smiths ensure people remember the youth lost to SCA. They honor these families and their children with banners at every event they attend.
“We don’t want any parent to think their child has been forgotten,” said Mary. They are intentional about connecting with families who have lost a child. This is often through a simple card, a letter, or in-person conversation.
Why it Matters
Thomas’ dreams were not fulfilled because of an event that can be preventable. It matters in the discussion of Sudden Cardiac Arrest and the need for AEDs.
Those dreams could be a reality if a heart screen were available. Had there been education on SCA or an AED nearby, Thomas’ story could have looked very different.
And though his life ended young, many others have the chance to live a full life because of the work that his family is doing in his memory.
The Emerg-A-Center Safety Command Centers provide quick and easy access to the needed safety tools, including an AED. With an AED on hand, this allows for better response to a Sudden Cardiac Arrest event.
Whether that be in the family, a friend, or even a neighbor. Our Centers provide immediate access to the tools and training needed in the event of an emergency. Not only do they store an AED, but they also include an Instructional Video Brochure. This unique tool features on-demand training for the Heimlich Maneuver, CPR, and more. Learn more here.
We are strong advocates for Sudden Cardiac Arrest awareness who believe in greater access to AEDs. And we’re honored to support the work of the Smiths through the Thomas Smith Memorial Foundation.