FORT MYERS, Fla. – With the Florida legislative session ending in a little more than three weeks, time is of the essence for Laurie Giordano in her fight to ensure no high school student-athlete dies from heatstroke-related illness.
Another summer without state-mandated cold immersion tubs present at workouts, which experts say make heat-related deaths 100% preventable, would be unacceptable for Giordano, whose son Zachary Martin-Polsenberg died 11 days after suffering heatstroke following a Riverdale High School workout in June 2017.
Giordano’s fight in support of the student-athlete safety bill, which will require high school athletic programs to take more precautions to prevent heatstroke deaths, took a step forward Wednesday as she addressed the Florida Senate Children, Family and Elder Affairs Committee in Tallahassee.
"Every day, month and year that passes where this isn't law, a child could die," said Giordano’s attorney, Evan Lubell of the Fort Myers-based Aloia, Roland, Lubell and Morgan law firm.
FB1696 stalled in the committee the past three weeks before Giordano received 1,672 signatures on a Change.org petition and had people in her network reach out to senators. If the bill passes the committee, it will move on to the Senate Rules Committee before reaching the Senate floor for a vote.
"The next two weeks are going to be critical for us to canvas all of the Florida state senators and double down on our efforts reaching out to them about how important this is," Lubell said. “We'd also like to have the governor have some awareness that this is being pushed because this bill may land on his desk sooner rather than later with the idea of getting this all done by the summer.”
Giordano is trying to prevent any parent from going through what she did on June 29, 2017, after her son collapsed during a summer workout and spent nearly two weeks in a coma before dying. Riverdale didn’t have cold-immersion tubs at the workout where temperatures exceeded 90 degrees.
Giordano filed a lawsuit against the Lee County School District and Riverdale coach James Delgado in state court, charging they failed in their responsibility to provide for the safety and well-being of Martin-Polsenberg.
Lee County has since mandated the tubs, but the Florida High School Athletic Association does not supersede state law and only recommends the tubs.
On Aug. 13, 2014, Sebastian River High School football player William Shogran Jr., 14, died while practicing with his team at Camp Blanding, a National Guard training ground in north-central Florida. This past year, Hezekiah Walters, a 14-year-old player from Tampa, died following workouts June 11.
Doug Casa, head of the Korey Stringer Institute, told HBO Real Sports reporter Soledad O’Brien the tubs are 100% effective when a person suffering from heatstroke is submerged in one within 10 minutes of experiencing symptoms.
"They're dying because the people who supervise them aren't taking care of them," Casa said.
Three out of every four states don’t mandate schools have cold-immersion tubs, which retail for $150. More than 460 student-athletes in Florida were treated for exertional heatstroke during the 2017-18 school year.
“If these are mandated at every high school in Florida, it’s virtually impossible for me to imagine that it’s not going to save lives,” Lubell said. "It’s such an easy fix, it’s so inexpensive that there’s no reason another parent should have to go through what (Giordano is) going through.”