8 years after teen's death, quest to install defibrillators at Philly rec centers complete
For Viola "Candy" Owens, the defibrillator mounted inside Daniel E. Rumph II Recreation Center is a bittersweet sight.
Rumph was Owens' only son. He died after going into sudden cardiac arrest during a pick-up game of basketball at the Germantown facility in 2005.
To this day, Owens believes her son may have survived the attack had his heart been shocked by a defibrillator as rescue crews made their way to the center, but the building wasn't equipped with the device.
This year, however, the device symbolizes the success of a nearly eight-year quest to place defibrillators in all 150 of the city's recreation centers.
The achievement – which Owens and her family tirelessly worked towards, following Rumph's death in 2005 – makes Wednesday's anniversary a bit easier to bear.
"It won't change what happened, but it makes me feel better that it'll save another parent from going through what I went through," said Owens. "It's just a little more comforting knowing that they're there."
A mourning family takes action
Shortly after Rumph's death, the Owens family launched The Daniel E. Rumph II Foundation as a way to help them heal and help save others.
Its initial goal was twofold: help raise awareness for cardiomyopathy, the disease Rumph unknowingly suffered from, and get defibrillators installed in all of the city's recreation centers.
Last year, the foundation got a big break.
After being awarded a federal grant for new defibrillators, the Philadelphia Fire Department, aware of the Rumph Foundation's efforts, donated all of their old ones to Parks and Recreation, said Marcus Owens.
It was a joyous moment.
"My brother had to go to a lot of meetings. He had a lot of doors closed in his face, but finally somebody opened the door and listened," said Viola Owens.
"That decision was just huge," said Marcus Owens.
The refurbished defibrillators were quietly installed last fall.
The fire department could not be reached for comment.
A proactive approach to saving others
Over seven years, the foundation independently raised more than $35,000 to purchase and install devices in 13 recreation centers around the city, including the Daniel Rumph facility.
Fundraisers – including an annual, multi-day basketball tournament featuring NBA and NBA-level talent with ties to the city – helped cover costs.
After some early resistance, the city's Department of Parks and Recreation gave the foundation the green light to carry out its mission. Officials said the department couldn't do much more.
"We always thought it'd be nice to have them, but the expense just wasn't in our budget. It wasn't really going to be something we could realize on our own," said Terri Kerwawich, the department's program director.
Outfitting all of the city's rec centers with defibrillators would have cost the department between $300,000 and $500,000, said Kerwawich.
The 13 defibrillators purchased by the foundation will be installed elsewhere, potentially in the city's Police Athletic Leagues.
The Rumph Foundation will now turn all of its attention towards raising funds for cardiomyopathy screenings at recreation centers. It's already held a few.
"Instead of being reactive when something happens to a young kid, we thought we'd do something more on the front end of it," said Michael Morak, the Rumph Foundation's director of events, before last summer's Rumph Classic "Save the Next Bright Star" Basketball Tournament.
Rumph's final hours
On May 8, 2005, Rumph, known to many as "Danny," made his way to Johnson and Manheim streets following a Mother's Day dinner two blocks away.
Two hours later, Owens got the call that changed her life.
Rumph, a standout point guard at Western Kentucky University, had unexpectedly collapsed on the hardwood. She rushed to his side.
"A lot of it I don't remember," said Owens, "but I do remember seeing my son laying on the floor and laying there for a long enough period of time before the fire department showed up."
By the time rescue crews arrived, Rumph had passed out. He died before reaching Albert Einstein Medical Center at the age of 21.
"I did that [drive] thousands of times and I think that was probably the longest drive up to Philadelphia," said Marcus Owens, Rumph's uncle, who lives in Delaware. "It felt like an out of body experience."
Anniversary marked by accomplishment
It was later determined that Rumph's fatal cardiac arrest was the result of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a genetic disease that compromises the function of muscle tissue in the heart responsible for keeping the vital organ pumping efficiently.
Oddly enough, Marcus Owens was diagnosed with the disease less than a week before tragedy struck. Rumph, however, had no idea he suffered from the same condition.
"[Danny] was more worried about me not being able to play [basketball]," said Marcus Owens.
Warning signs are few. The only way to diagnose cardiomyopathy is through a series of heart scans, including an echocardiogram. Rumph never had one.
The anniversary of Rumph's death remains a somber day for the Owens family and Danny's friends. He would have turned 30 this year.
Marcus Owens plans to stop by Rumph's grave for a brief chat. He said he plans on mentioning his namesake foundation's achievement.
"I'll be definitely talking to him like, 'Man, this is going to be big. This is something big that we accomplished here,'" said Marcus Owens.
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Daniel E. Rumph II Recreation Center is located at the corner of Morton Street and E. Johnson Street.