Greg’s Gifts

From The Morning Call

Gregory’s Gifts

By MIKE FRASSINELLI
Of The Morning Call
November 22, 2001

The team bus had already left when Gregory Moyer and his mom caught up to it a few blocks from school.

The sophomore varsity basketball player from Notre Dame High School of East Stroudsburg was annoyed that his mother brought him late, but boarded the bus with all the bravado of a mayor working a St. Patrick’s Day parade crowd.

“Don’t worry, guys,” he announced to coaches, teammates and cheerleaders, who couldn’t help but laugh. “I’m here.”

He wouldn’t be much longer.

During halftime of that night’s game at East Stroudsburg North High School in Pike County on Dec. 2, Gregory collapsed.

He had played 10 minutes in the first half, sank one of two foul shots (“If you can get one, you can get the other,” his father, John Moyer, called out above the din) and was smiling when he left the court to enter the locker room.

Shortly after, a concerned-looking Billy Ryan, one of Notre Dame’s starters and a friend of Gregory, ran out to the stands to grab Gregory’s parents, Rachel and John Moyer.

“I’m thinking, ‘OK, broken hand, broken arm,’” Rachel Moyer remembered. “He was on the floor. I said, ‘Gregory, what’s wrong with you? Breathe.’”

Gregory, at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, seemed robust. There was no indication he had a heart problem.

“If he had a hangnail, Rachel had him in the emergency room, getting checked,” John Moyer said.

Gregory had a bit of a mischievous side. He had a penchant for throwing a smaller friend, Matt “T-Bone” Fellin, into a garbage can and lifting him to the basketball rim. (“Greg, you can’t put Matt in the garbage can” and “Gregory Moyer, get Matt off that hoop” were common refrains from Notre Dame teachers.)

And when his mom told him the laundry basket was too heavy to carry by herself, he suggested she divide the clothes into two baskets to make them lighter.

When a magician came to school, Gregory was called on to carry some of his heavy equipment. If he was such a great magician, Gregory wondered aloud, why couldn’t he make the equipment disappear and put it back into his own truck.

When his mother asked him why he wasn’t taking a date to Notre Dame’s Homecoming Dance, he told her that if he took a date, he wouldn’t “be available for all of the ladies.”

But he also had a big heart. A fellow construction employee wanted to go to college but couldn’t afford it because his parents separated and money was tight. The construction company owner went around town taking a collection. The owner didn’t ask 15-year-old Gregory, who was a part-time employee. Nonetheless, Gregory gave him $20, nearly all of his savings, and never mentioned it to his parents.

His heart was too big, as it turned out. He had enlarged heart walls, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition that no one knew about until it was too late.

It was the first game in East Stroudsburg North’s spiffy new gymnasium, which had a special scoreboard, special press box and special seating. But the new school didn’t have an automated external defibrillator, a small, lightweight device that might have saved Gregory’s life.

East Stroudsburg North, opened to accommodate the tremendous growth of New York and New Jersey transplants in the northern Poconos, is about 20 miles from the nearest hospital.

The first ambulance arrived in 30 minutes, but a defibrillator was not available. The second ambulance arrived 10 minutes later with a defibrillator, and Gregory’s heart began beating after several shocks.

His heart stopped beating during the long ride to the hospital, and Gregory was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Gregory’s parents wonder whether having a defibrillator on site would have saved their son’s life.

They could have felt sorry for themselves.

Or they could have tried to make sure Gregory’s death had a greater meaning.

The parents from Shawnee-on-Delaware established the Gregory W. Moyer Defibrillator Fund with the modest goal of trying to get defibrillators in Monroe County schools.

State Rep. Kelly Lewis, R-Monroe, took up the cause and helped Pennsylvania become the first state in the country to pass a bill calling for two free defibrillators for every school district that requests them.

The bill, which was rejected when it was presented before Gregory’s death, was approved April 25. Lawmakers passed it not knowing that day would have been Gregory’s 16th birthday.

Suddenly, a 15-year-old from a small private school in Monroe County had become Pennsylvania’s poster child for the importance of getting defibrillators in public places.

Don’t worry, guys. I’m here.

The Gregory W. Moyer Defibrillator Fund (c/o Attorney Arthur L. Zulick, 819 Ann St., Stroudsburg 18360) has raised more than $100,000. Individual donors have given from $2 to $10,000. The Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania decided that getting defibrillators into public places would be its yearly cause, and chipped in $33,000.

John and Rachel Moyer have led more than 15 training seminars on how to use defibrillators.

“We’ve chosen this fund as a way to memorialize our son and give us something to focus on,” John Moyer said. “I think it has been the only thing that has helped us keep our sanity. You are always going to remember your son or your loved one. One of your biggest fears is that other people are going to forget him.”

The goal of getting defibrillators in Monroe County schools (all county school superintendents included defibrillators in their 2001-02 budgets) was upgraded to getting defibrillators in all public schools and public places such as parks and churches.

“We hope you never have to use it,” the Moyers tell people when they hand them the defibrillators.

Monsignor McHugh School in Cresco did have to use a defibrillator it was given from the Moyer fund – just 11 days after receiving it.

Sixth-grader Daniel Golden, who during his 11 years had battled congenital heart disease, collapsed at school on Oct. 22. The defibrillator allowed his heart to begin beating again, and he was eventually flown to St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia.

Daniel died at the hospital Nov. 9, but his family thanked the Moyers for the defibrillator, saying it bought them some extra time to say goodbye to their son, Rachel Moyer said.

Poconos resorts bought defibrillators. So did ambulance corps, fire stations, the YMCA, the National Park Service, doctors offices and summer camps.

The Moyers, who were stunned when more than 1,500 people attended Gregory’s viewing, said the community support has been touching.

Among the mourners was an elderly couple who met Gregory on the golf course the day he shot a hole in one, only five months after he picked up the sport.

On Dec. 2, the one-year anniversary of Gregory’s death, a 12:05 p.m. Mass at St. Matthew’s Church in East Stroudsburg will be dedicated to him. From there, friends will visit Gregory’s grave, share lunch and stories and learn how to operate defibrillators.

Rachel Moyer, who is from Maryland and always planned on being buried in her home state, is so proud of Pennsylvania that she now wants to be buried here.

According to American Heart Association statistics, 250,000 people die every year from sudden cardiac arrest, but up to one in every five of those deaths could be prevented with a defibrillator.

On the basketball court, Gregory used to pass up open shots.

“I would tell him, ‘Take the shot if you’ve got it,’” his dad recalled. “He was the ultimate team player.”

In a sense, he still is.

His death almost a year ago has illustrated for lawmakers and schools throughout the state the importance of defibrillators. The boy who used to pass up open shots to give teammates the ball is still giving assists.

The reminders of Gregory are on the small plaques affixed near the defibrillators for which his memorial fund has paid.

The reminders are on the picture and newspaper story with the headline, “Community mourns ‘gentle’ Notre Dame student,” on the wall of Vinny D’s, a popular East Stroudsburg deli.

The Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort has a monument for Gregory. Shawnee Fire Company, where John Moyer is a longtime member, plans to name a rescue truck after the boy.

The reminders are on the necklace Rachel Moyer wears, with the locket of her son’s high school and basketball team pictures.

The reminders are in the bedroom that Gregory’s parents have left intact. The trophies are in the same place, as are the baseball glove and CliffsNotes books. There are some of Gregory’s famous ties. His locker was filled with ties. Gregory’s parents didn’t know he had so many until classmates wore many of them to the viewing.

The reminders are on his memorial video. With a background of the Sarah McLachlan song “I Will Remember You,” the viewer can’t help but sob while watching pictures of Gregory as a baby with his sisters, Abbie and Katie, and up through his early teen years.

“There was never a day that kid wasn’t told he was loved,” Rachel Moyer said.

Don’t worry, guys. I’m here.

To Gregory Moyer, classes were something to tolerate until basketball practice.

Social studies meant socializing with Notre Dame’s 357 students in grades 7 through 12 in the school where everyone knows your name. The inability to get lost in the crowd is part of Notre Dame’s blessing and, when trying to hide from teachers, its curse.

As his father put it during the eulogy, “If there were classes in comedy and caring at Notre Dame instead of math and religion, Greg would have gotten straight A’s.”

Nonetheless, he made the honor roll for the first time in the first quarter of his sophomore year.

He ran down to the posted list and said to Principal Jeffrey N. Lyons, “Mr. Lyons, did you see my name? I’m on the honor roll.”

“Greg, don’t act like a rookie,” Lyons replied. “Only rookies spike the ball and do the dance. Act like you’ve been there before and hand the official the ball.”

Two weeks later, Gregory ran after the principal and told him, “Mr. Lyons, I shot a hole in one.”

“Great, Greg, but next time give a seventh-grader an ice cream and have him run up to me and ask if I knew that Greg Moyer shot a hole in one. Then I can come up to you and congratulate you.”

A few days later, the principal told Gregory, “Greg, you know good things come in threes. What’s next?

“I guess he learned his lesson, for two weeks later, without telling a soul, he’s in heaven with God.”

Don’t worry, guys. I’m here.

Reporter Mike Frassinelli

610-820-6595

mike.frassinelli@mcall.com

Copyright © 2001, The Morning Call