By Emily Williams
For the past 18 years, Mountain Brook’s Frank Bromberg, Robbie Robertson and Floyd Larkin have been on a mission to save lives in the name of their friend, the late Lord Piers Wedgwood, former international ambassador for Wedgwood China and Waterford Crystal.
Through the Lord Wedgwood Charity, established in Birmingham, the three men estimate they have raised more than $2 million dollars since 2002 to buy and place automated external defibrillators in schools, parks and restaurants throughout the country and to fund CPR training.
The charity’s annual fundraiser, typically held each spring, was cancelled this year due to COVID-19.
To make up for the loss and add to their existing fundraising opportunities, the charity has set its inaugural Sportsman’s Social and Clay Shoot. The event will begin Nov. 12 with a social at Iron City Birmingham, featuring a whiskey tasting, raffle, auction and other activities. The next day, there will be a clay shoot at Pursell Farms.
“For the last 19 years we have done golf tournaments, so we thought this was an excellent opportunity to expand our venue and to reach out to a whole new audience,” Floyd said. “With COVID-19, we are in the open air and it should be a very safe environment for everybody.”
It was important to the group to maintain an in-person event as safely as possible to pay homage to the charity’s namesake.
“Piers, to people who knew him, was one of the most genuinely nice people that you’d ever meet and fun to be around that you’d ever meet,” Robertson said.
All three of the men had personal friendships with Wedgwood, along with event organizer Marcia Twitty.
“Out of all of the things great that Piers has done for people, one of the things he has done for others is help people who might encounter the same issue he experienced,” Robertson noted.
“Just being a part of that is what spurred us on as much as anything.”
Golf Course Scare
Bromberg was playing golf with Wedgwood one day in 2000. Wedgwood was in town to speak at the museum and do a few PR projects and met up with Bromberg and another friend to play golf before he boarded a flight to his next destination.
His plans were halted on the course when he experienced sudden cardiac arrest.
“Thank the Lord, he was saved, in this instance actually by CPR,” Bromberg said.
Wedgwood remained in Birmingham and underwent quadruple bypass surgery. He recovered, though his chances of surviving the entire ordeal couldn’t have been more than 4%, Bromberg said.
“While he was in the hospital recovering – and he spent three weeks in Birmingham – he and I had a conversation and basically I said, the Lord kept you alive for a reason,” Bromberg said. “We’ve got to start a charity.”
At that point in 2000, Bromberg didn’t have any idea what that charity would be. The idea took shape as he reached out to Floyd Larkin and long-time friend Robbie Robertson.
“We knew we wanted to do something around the heart,” Bromberg said.
“We were talking about heart research and giving money to UAB, and I’ll never forget, it was Robbie who really came up with the idea to do something different.”
While it is more difficult to measure medical research, Robertson said it is easy to see the effect when you place defibrillators in a high school.
Two years after Wedgewood’s cardiac event, the men hosted the first Lord Wedgwood Blue Dinner and Wedgwood Links to Life Celebrity Golf Classic.
“Within our first year, we raised $100,000,” Larkin said. “Back then, AEDs were a lot more expensive, and we placed 38 AEDs.
“In that nine months, we saved three kids here in the Birmingham area. That was two 17-year-olds and a 13-year-old.”
Wedgwood would go on to die of cardiac arrest, but not for another 14 years.
AEDs Placed Widely
Since it was established, the charity has placed about 500 AEDs throughout the United States, mainly in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, Virginia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Texas.
“How many lives have been saved since then?” Floyd asked rhetorically. “I can’t tell you, but a lot of people are walking around today that wouldn’t be walking around.”
With funds raised each year, the charity continues to place AEDs as well as monitor that the AEDs provided are safe for use at all times. In more recent years, they have put a focus on funding CPR training as well.
“When you combine CPR with the AED, their chances of a positive outcome greatly increase,” Floyd said.
One of the things each of the founders have learned through involvement in the organization is the significance of sudden cardiac arrest. It is an experience that knows no demographic limitations and can happen to anyone.
In the early years of the group, Robertson reached out to David Cutcliffe, then-head football coach at the University of Mississippi, to play in the celebrity golf tournament. At first, Cutcliffe turned him down because the date conflicted with a youth football training camp.
When he asked Robertson what the event raised funds for, he found someone to cover for him so he could attend.
“He said, ‘Robbie, you would not know this, but years ago in Birmingham … we were at the Huffman ball field watching our youngest brother play – who was about 11 or 12. He was hit in the chest with a ball, his heart stopped and all of us in the stands watched my little brother die on the field.”
Though they weren’t available at the time, an AED could have saved his brother’s life.
“What I learned was that so many people have been touched by cardiac arrest,” Robertson said.
Quick Help Needed
The rule of thumb, Floyd said, is that CPR and an AED be used within the first three minutes of someone experiencing sudden cardiac arrest, much shorter than the timeframe it often takes for an EMT to arrive on the scene.
“We can make a difference. If you have a trained person, (it) enhances the outcome with CPR if you have an AED there,” Floyd said.
The men are working to create a world where AEDs are as prevalent as fire extinguishers.
“Cardiac arrest also happens for unusual reasons,” Robertson noted. “Like the young men at Vestavia High School who were moving the temporary goal post.”
In 2019, three VHHS students were moving the goal post on the soccer field and came into close or direct contact with a power line. All three were shocked, one critically electrocuted. Athletic trainers on the scene used a portable AED, which had been provided by the Lord Wedgwood Charity, and CPR to revive the student just as EMTs arrived.
“His dad showed up at one of our events and I’ll never forget – it was the most telling moment – he got up and thanked everyone for being there because his son wouldn’t be here today without it,” Robertson said. “That’s enormous.”
For more information on the Lord Wedgwood Charity or to register for the Sportsman’s Social and/or Clay Shoot, visit lordwedgwoodcharity.org.