BONNEY LAKE, WA — Laurie never set out to be the head of a foundation. She never expected to be at the forefront of bringing change and awareness to military bases. The proud mother of two amazing grown sons, wife of an engineer, and librarian by profession, life was complete for the Finlayson family. Everything changed on a November day in 2013 when her son died suddenly of a Sudden Cardiac Arrest event while serving as a Marine
Four years later, she is at the head of Lion Heart Heroes Foundation. She now champions the cause of heart screenings for recruits with ECGs. And through her work, brings awareness about SCA wherever she goes.
LCpl David Finlayson: The Storyteller
David was a storyteller. From the moment his toddler lips could form words, he was telling stories. He was smart and witty and knew how to tell a story that kept you engaged and on the edge of your seat. This love of stories stayed with him throughout his childhood and grew with him as an adult. Something young David always talked growing up was his desire to one day be a Marine.
“He wanted his own stories to tell,” says Laurie of his decision to join the U.S. Marine Corps.
David was passionate about this new chapter in his life and proved to be a natural born leader. He was, in his mom’s own “unbiased” opinion, an excellent Assaultman who never missed his target.
In November of 2013, David returned from deployment in the Pacific. He was stationed in Hawaii. That day, David’s entire 1/3 Battalion set out for an intense 5-mile training run. Making it 4.75 miles, David suddenly felt weak.
Within seconds, he collapsed. His fellow Marines threw water on him. They even attempted CPR, but the thought of bringing a nearby AED never occurred. Once local EMT’s arrived with their own AED in tow, it was too late. LCpl David Finlayson died that day at age 25 of a Sudden Cardiac Arrest event.
The Mission To Save Lives Starts Here
The autopsy showed David’s heart to be normal. It was then that Laurie and husband John began asking questions. They soon learned their son never had an EKG. In fact, no military physical required it.
“How can the military not check their hearts when they have such demanding physical requirements?” asks Laurie. Their shock led to more and more questions. This, in turn, led them to someone who knew exactly how they felt: — Darla Varrenti of the Nick of Time Foundation. Darla lost her 16-year-old son, Nick, to Sudden Cardiac Arrest.
Through the support of Darla and other parents of SCA victims, Laurie’s mission became clear. To promote cardiac screenings during the military enlistment process and promote SCA awareness. The Lion Heart Heroes Foundation was born.
A Goal To Keep Military Hearts Beating
They work under the mission “Keep Military Hearts Beating”,. Laurie and her team seek to bring about change in in Military Entrance Processing Stations (MEPS) nationwide. Their goal is make heart screenings a part of everyday recruit physicals.
“What the military does now catches 10 percent or less of heart problems,” Laurie says. “If they added an EKG (electrocardiogram), they could catch as much as 86 percent. That’s a huge difference. We could save lives that way.”
Laurie’s goal is for heart screenings to become a part of the recruitment medical protocol. “Then these undiagnosed heart problems can be discovered before young recruits join the service, giving them the opportunity to get their hearts fixed,” said Laurie.
Making a change is difficult, however, because of strict military ruling and regulation. But the Finlayson’s aren’t giving up that easily. They continue to advocate to save future families from suffering the loss they went through.
“We are working with Congressional offices to work with the military to try to change the medical protocols so they do EKG screening during the first stages of the enlistment process. And that way if a recruit has a genetic heart defect, it can be found,” says Laurie.
In the meantime, the Foundation continues to promote SCA awareness and raise funds for AED donation.
On the 5th anniversary of David’s death, Laurie and her team donated an AED to the Kahuna’s Enlisted Club in Hawaii. This was a place her son enjoyed hanging out with friends. The AED was dedicated to David in a ceremony that included many military men and women. Two other AEDS were also donated that day. They were dedicated to LCpl Steven Rintamaki (KIA Iraq) and to military personnel who have lost their lives to SCA.
Why The Lion? What does it represent?
The Lion Heart Heroes Foundation takes its name from a tattoo David had on his shoulder. He got it after a significantly impactful time in his life. David was young, enjoying the many adventures and friends that filled his life. He had wanted something to remember this time in his life he felt so happy. Ultimately. he decided on a tattoo, but knew it had to be something with meaning.<
“Since we are of Scottish descent on both sides of the family, he decided on the Rampant Lion from the Scottish flag. The lion is a symbol of bravery and courage,” said Laurie.
Now, the Lion stands for so much more.
“The lion is a symbol of bravery and courage which suits him and suits all our military,” says Laurie. The lion that David had tattooed on his shoulder now sits proudly in the logo for the foundation. For the SCA cause, Laurie added an element. A small heart, which represents the cardiac issues that they are seeking to address.
Why It Matters
Sudden Cardiac Arrest is the leading killer of Americans nationwide and claims an estimated 326,000 lives every year. SCA is not specific to gender, age, race, or lifestyle, which means our military personnel are not exempt from this medical tragedy. That’s why we proudly support Lion Heart Heroes.
Emerg-A-Center is passionate about making homes and residencies safe by providing the tools needed in the case of an emergency, including an AED for an SCA event. Our cabinets easily install in a home or office — recessed between studs or mounted on a wall –. and provide quick and easy access to important safety items. And our recently introduced On the Go Bags provide safety in every situation, no matter where you’re at, with a fully stocked backpack.
On the Go Bags come in three different varieties based on activity (Recreational, Contractor, and Marine) and include an AED in a clear front pouch, first aid kit, bleeding control kit, fire extinguisher (excludes recreational) and a flashlight. Each bag also features our trusted Instructional Safety Brochure, providing on the go training for safety items and common safety practices.
We are proud to support the work of Laurie and John as they press on through the Lion Heart Heroes Foundation to continue the fight to save lives.