Christy Marshall Silva ’96: Matters of the Heart

An alumna finds inspiration in the midst of tragedy.

Christy Marshall Silva ’96
Christy Marshall Silva ’96

Christy Marshall Silva ’96 had never heard of Sudden Cardiac Arrest when it unexpectedly claimed the life of her 7-year-old son Aidan in 2010.

“I always knew he was one in a million,” she said of Aidan. “I just didn’t realize he was actually one in 7,000 kids that die from Sudden Cardiac Arrest every year.”

Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA), a condition where the heart’s electrical system suddenly malfunctions and disrupts its normal rhythm, is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. Shocked that her seemingly healthy son, who had just gotten a clean bill of health from his physician six weeks earlier, could pass so quickly without warning, Silva began obsessively researching SCA.

“I couldn’t wrap my mind around how he could be here one minute and not the next,” she said.

Finding Her Way

Silva learned everything she could about SCA. She learned that the American Heart Association cites SCA as the number one killer of high school athletes on school grounds. She learned that many of the conditions that cause SCA can be detected by an electrocardiogram (EKG), a painless, non-invasive test, and that one in 300 children are found to have a potentially life-threatening heart condition. She learned that many of those conditions can be easily treated with medication.

After Aidan’s passing, Silva became determined to spare others from the heartache that SCA had inflicted upon her.

“As a mother who tried everything to keep her kids safe, I couldn’t understand why we weren’t doing (EKGs) in every pediatric well visit,” she said.

She also learned about how automated external defibrillators (AEDs), the only machines that can re-start a heart, need to be used in conjunction with CPR in order to treat SCA. Lastly, she learned that Pennsylvania did not require AEDs in its schools and that the chances of surviving SCA decrease 7 to 10 percent for every minute that goes by before CPR and defibrillation begins.

“It’s imperative that AEDs are within a two-minute brisk walk of anyplace kids are physically active,” she said.
Throughout her life, Silva, a native of Rhinebeck, New York, had always sought to help others, especially children; this interest led her to babysitting, then lifeguarding, and, later, to performing volunteer work with children with disabilities. When she began pondering a career as a teacher, she found herself attracted to Jesuit universities because of their emphasis on service and education. When she first visited Scranton, she felt so welcomed by the student body that she knew it was the right place for her.

“I was very attracted to the positive energy I felt,” she said.

While majoring in secondary education English, she became involved with Campus Ministries, where she led multiple service trips. She also met her future husband, Steven Silva ’95. After graduation, she volunteered with the Border Rights Coalition in El Paso, Texas, at an orphanage, and, ultimately, with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) at the Philadelphia Committee to End Homelessness. After the end of her JVC term of service, she began teaching at Our Mother of Sorrows in West Philadelphia. She and Steven soon married and brought Aidan into the world. After Aidan was born, she started a tutoring company and earned a master’s degree in literacy from West Chester University in order to become a reading specialist.

Today, she works as a reading specialist at Marsh Creek Sixth Grade Center in Downingtown, where she resides with Devin, Quentin and Fiona, Aidan’s younger siblings.

Aidan’s Law

During his life, Aidan left a lasting impression on the people around him.

“He was very kind, very sweet,” she said of Aidan. “He would tend to the youngest child in the room.

screen-shot-2019-09-06-at-1.42.05-pm.png“Emotionally, he was very in tune with anybody that might feel they were apart from the group. He was a great kid.”

After Aidan’s passing, Silva became determined to spare others from the heartache that SCA had inflicted upon her. She formed Aidan’s Heart Foundation to combat SCA and held its first annual 5K for Aidan J fundraiser shortly after. Since 2011, it has screened more than 1,800 hearts, discovering potentially life-threatening conditions in 25 youths. The foundation has also placed 82 AEDs in schools and youth-centered organizations. Through its Heart Heroes program, it has trained more than 5,000 students in CPR and AED operation. Perhaps most impressively, the foundation was instrumental in passing PA Act 35 (Aidan’s Law) to help ensure that all schools in Pennsylvania are equipped with updated AEDs.

For her efforts, Silva was recognized as a 2018 L’Oreal Woman of Worth, an honor she shared with nine other extraordinary women. The group recently gathered together in New York City.

“It was just wonderful ... being around women who have that kind of grit, that conviction that I’ve had since the day that Aidan died,” she said. “It was tremendously empowering.”

When asked what Aidan would think of all the great work that has been done in his memory, Silva shared a tender image that has flashed through her mind at each 5K for Aidan.

“I picture him with his arms out wide, his head up, smiling at the sun and just spinning in joy,” she said. “I know that Aidan is working through me. I feel very strongly (that) I could not do this on my own.

“I know he’s very proud.”

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