July 20, 2016

Behind the Scenes with David Babbitt: Advocating for Sudden Cardiac Death Prevention Awareness after a Family Tragedy

David Babbitt with an automated external defibrillator

David Babbitt with an automated external defibrillator (AED)

A family tragedy 10 years ago spurred David Babbitt, a managing director in foreign exchange, to create a foundation that provides defibrillators and other support for people in cardiac distress. He recently spoke with Behind the Scenes about his career, how the sudden death of his 16-year-old son gave him a new sense of purpose, and the work of the John Taylor Babbitt Foundation.

When did you arrive at BNY Mellon, and how has your career progressed?

I started at the Bank of New York almost 30 years ago. I’ve had quite a few different roles. I began in corporate lending, responsible for relationships with multinational and Fortune 500 companies in the Midwest. After five or six years, I had the opportunity to go to London to work in the foreign exchange sales group, which I did from 1993 to 1997.

Our time in the UK was a wonderful experience for my family – my wife, JoAnne, and my sons, John and Andrew. My sons were 4 and 2 when we went, and 8 and 6 when we returned, and it was a perfect time to be there with young children. We lived 90 miles southwest of London in Winchester, the legendary home of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. We still have close friends there.

Since our return, I have worked in New York in BNY Mellon Markets, the company's trading business, where I am now a managing director. I work with large institutional investors on foreign exchange execution and research.

Tell me about your son John.

John was a three-sport athlete in high school, where he played football, soccer, and baseball. He never missed a day of school in his life. John had just had a physical to play baseball when we lost him in 2003 to a totally undetected genetic heart condition. He collapsed and died while playing basketball at our church. He was 16 and in his junior year. The cause of death was hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. As we learned, it is the main cause of sudden death in young athletes. We were utterly blindsided, because John was strong and fit.

But then two things happened. First, when John passed, everyone wanted to do something.  His friends, their families, our family and our neighbors all created a tremendous amount of energy, and we wanted to channel it into something positive.

Second, not long after we lost John, there were three other instances in our home state of New Jersey of young athletes stricken by the same sudden cardiac death while playing sports. In each case, there was no automated external defibrillator (AED), or the AED got there too late.  Even though we didn’t know these children, it was like it happened to us all over again. We felt like pincushions, and we knew we couldn’t live our lives like that.

Our loss and the passing of these other young athletes were the catalysts that convinced us to form the John Taylor Babbitt Foundation.

What is the foundation’s mission? 

We don’t want another family to lose a child the way we did, so we focus on cardiac pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training and AED awareness. An AED works by re-establishing a normal heart rhythm during a heart attack. When we lost John 13 years ago, there weren’t many of them around. Our goal is to make them as commonplace as fire extinguishers – and we want people to know that you can save a life by calling 911, starting CPR and immediately looking for an AED when someone is in cardiac distress.

In the past seven years, we have donated more than 110 AEDs, which cost $1,500 to $2,500 each, and we’ve sponsored training programs for more than 350 people. We host an annual “Walk with Heart,” which draws 350 to 450 people each year. And we sponsor clubs on high school and college campuses focusing on advocacy, education, and the purchase of defibrillators.

BNY Mellon has been extremely supportive in our journey. The firm has matched employee contributions, donated Yankee tickets as raffle prizes and supported our events through BNY Mellon’s Community Partnership program. BNY Mellon Markets employees have purchased over $3,000 of raffle tickets each year for our annual Walk with Heart. It has been overwhelming.

We recently marked the 10th anniversary of the foundation. My son Andrew wanted to host an event in New York to get young adults involved. We hosted the “Babbitt Ball” – a cocktail hour, dancing, and an educational program at the New York Athletic Club on February 6, which sold out in two weeks and attracted more than 500 people. The speaker was a 28-year-old young man who had survived a sudden cardiac arrest because a doctor was able to administer CPR until an AED was available. Within two weeks of attending the Babbitt Ball, 60 young adults took a CPR class.

We have also advocated for legislative changes in New Jersey. In 2012, we sponsored the Good Samaritan law, which ensures that anyone who tried in good conscience to save someone with an AED would be released from liability if they unintentionally cause injury. And in 2014, we advocated successfully for legislation that requires all New Jersey public high school students to complete CPR and AED training before graduating.

What has the work of the foundation meant to you and your family?

It is very bittersweet. Our family is passionate about increasing the awareness of sudden cardiac death prevention, and we welcome every opportunity to get the word out. At the same time, we are having these big events, and we are always aware that someone is missing. But we are blessed. We have a strong network of people who keep attending the events and supporting the Foundation.