Treasure Coast mom on mission for more AEDs in schools, parks

Jessica Clinton, 17, died from undiagnosed heart condition in 2003
Posted at 5:50 PM, Jan 06, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-06 17:50:08-05

ST. LUCIE COUNTY, Fla. — The health battle of Buffalo Bills' safety Damar Hamlin has brought sudden cardiac arrest into the spotlight, but for one Treasure Coast family, it's been at the center of their world for nearly 20 years.

Jessica Clinton, a 17-year-old St. Lucie County student, died from an undiagnosed heart condition in 2003. Her school did not have an automated external defibrillator (AED). Her family said if it did, she would have had a chance to live.

Since her death, Clinton's family has been fighting to get more AEDs in public places like schools and parks.

Her mother, Cheryl Lalloo, said when she saw Hamlin collapse on the field during Monday Night Football, the memories came rushing back.

"Initially it broke my heart for his mom sitting there, watching what was going on, and then to see a young person on the ground, it just brings back a lot of memories and you just say your prayers," Lalloo said. "When she was practicing cheerleading at school, she went into cardiac arrest and passed away at the school. They gave her CPR, but there was no AED at the time so she didn't have the chance that this young man had."

The tragedy and heartbreak propelled Lalloo into a new life's purpose. She and her family started the Jessica Clinton MVP Foundation.

"We realized that courthouses have AEDs and prisons have AEDs, but our schools do not have AEDs, and that's when the mission started," Lalloo said.

She fought for a 2011 Florida law that requires every public school that is a member of the Florida High School Athletic Association to have an operational AED on school grounds.

The device delivers an electric shock in an attempt to get the heart back to a normal rhythm. It was used on the field to help Hamlin.

"You have fire extinguishers everywhere in case of a fire and there should be an AED right next to them," Lalloo said. "I think people are afraid to use them, but it talks you right through it, and lets you know to call 911. An AED will not shock unless a shock is needed, and the person is already gone so really are not doing any harm to them."

The foundation also runs CPR trainings and heart screenings every year.

"You find small things in children, but again this year we found a child who had a very life-threatening condition," Lalloo said.

In those moments, she knows the work is worth it.

"This isn't what I thought my life would be, but telling Jessica's story has made a difference," Lalloo said. "Children have been saved, adults have been saved, and I think that the time she had on Earth was great, but I feel there was another purpose for her life. I believe she's helping with all of this. All of this doesn't just happen. We have help from above."

Click here to learn more about the foundation.