Two years after controversy erupted over a national organization that
teaches children emergency first-aid skills, Putnam County's health
commissioner remains listed as a board member, although she says she
has no ties to Save A Life Foundation.
Dr. Sherlita Amler, who has led Putnam's Health Department since 2004,
is named, along with her husband, on the foundation's Web site as a
member of the medical advisory board. But Amler said she wasn't aware
she was still on the Web site.
"I have no affiliation. I never agreed to be on the board," Amler
said. "When I was asked to be on the board, I said I couldn't because
it was a conflict of interest."
Amler said it was a conflict because she worked with the Illinois-
based Save A Life Foundation about six years ago, when she was a
medical officer with the national Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention in Atlanta. At that time, SALF received a federal grant and
she served as a "scientific adviser" on the project, Amler said.
Meanwhile, her husband, Dr. Robert Amler, a dean at New York Medical
College in Valhalla and a Hawthorne-based pediatrician, said he knew
he was on SALF's medical advisory board. He worked with SALF in 2003
when he was the regional health administrator for the Department of
Health and Human Services, he said, assisting the foundation with
figuring out where to seek federal funding.
As dean of the medical college's School of Public Health, Robert Amler
said, he appointed SALF founder Carol Spizzirri in 2005 to be a
visiting lecturer at the college.
Spizzirri is listed as such on the medical college's Web site under
the School of Public Health's Health Policy and Management Department,
though in an archived page on the SALF Web site under Spizzirri's
biography, it says she was "invited by the New York Medical College as
an adjunct professor for Pre-EMS, with its newly created department of
The medical college listing also indicates she is a registered nurse
and holds a bachelor's degree in nursing from a Wisconsin college,
credentials not supported in state or college records.
Robert Amler said in Spizzirri's role as visiting lecturer - an unpaid
position - she participated in some faculty meetings and a community
awards ceremony in Peekskill.
"There's not only a professional basis to say their (SALF) work is
excellent, but from what I've seen, there's been independent
affirmation of their high quality of work," Robert Amler said.
When asked about the credentials of a visiting lecturer, medical
college spokeswoman Donna Moriarty said, "There is no specific
educational requirement as there would be for regular faculty. It's
the lecturer's background, expertise and ability to work with students
that matter most here, as opposed to their academic credentials."
When pressed to comment on the apparent falsity of Spizzirri's
credentials, Moriarty said, "We've said everything there is to say on
Lawsuit follows TV report
Spizzirri's background and SALF's achievements were questioned in 2006
following a Chicago ABC 7 "I-Team" report that claimed Spizzirri
misrepresented herself, lying about her nursing and licensing
credentials, along with how her daughter died - the basis for starting
the foundation - while receiving millions of dollars in state and
The report also claims the Heimlich maneuver, one of the methods
taught by SALF, is not a reliable lifesaving technique and is
inconsistent with national guidelines and standards. In January 2007,
SALF retired Dr. Henry Heimlich, a former Rye resident who invented
the procedure to aid choking victims, from its medical board,
according to its Web site.
Last year, SALF also filed a defamation lawsuit against three people,
including Heimlich's son, Peter Heimlich; Dr. Robert Baratz, president
of the National Council Against Health Fraud; and Cincinnati blogger
Jason Haap. The lawsuit alleges the three men were key sources in the
ABC report and have conspired to destroy SALF by disseminating false
information to numerous agencies who fund it. The lawsuit claims that
statements made in the ABC report were false and defamatory.
The TV station and its parent network were dropped from the defamation
case, but a judge let the claims continue against Peter Heimlich and
"I feel the lawsuit misstates the record and will be vigorously
defended," said Baratz, a primary care-emergency care doctor in the
Boston area. He and the other men have filed motions to dismiss the
Peter Heimlich maintains a Web site, www.medfraud.info, in which he
has amassed dozens of newspaper articles and scientific reports
debunking his father's Heimlich maneuver in saving drowning victims.
Peter Heimlich did not respond to a request for comment. SALF
maintains that Heimlich targeted the foundation as part of a campaign
"to destroy his elderly father."
SALF's lawsuit contends that 11 organizations have severed their
relationship with the foundation as a result of the three defendants'
interference, including a pilot program with Putnam County's Emergency
But Robert Cuomo, director of EMS in Putnam County since 2000, said
his agency never considered participating in a pilot with SALF.
"I can tell you with all confidence that there are no plans in the
works or never an agreement made," Cuomo said. "I think I remember
having a conversation about Save A Life in general, that it was
available to us, but we didn't do anything about it."
Credentials are suspect
In a Dec. 2 e-mail response, Spizzirri said SALF's legal counsel
advised her not to make any comments due to the litigation but said
she would be happy to discuss SALF's mission after this "sad and
strange legal issue is resolved." She referred questions to attorney
Tom DiCianni, who did not return calls.
Spizzirri started Save A Life Foundation in 1993, after her daughter,
Christina Spizzirri, died in a car accident in September 1992. The 18-
year-old "died as a result of first-responders not able to render
basic life supporting first aid because of lack of training," SALF's
Web site states. Through her foundation, Spizzirri helped pass an
Illinois state mandate that requires police and firefighters to be
trained in life supporting first-aid skills before graduating from
Spizzirri had reportedly said that Christina was the victim of a hit-
and-run driver, that her arm had been injured and that she bled to
death before EMS arrived, according to the ABC report. But an inquest
by the Lake County, Ill., coroner showed that the teenager was legally
drunk at the time of the single-vehicle accident and that she was
ejected from her car, which rolled over multiple times. She died at
the hospital of head and bodily injuries. Police officers first on the
scene did not issue first aid, according to the inquest.
The SALF lawsuit contends ABC's claims that Save A Life "intentionally
released and promoted false reports" about how the teenager was killed
are false and defamatory. "Neither Carol Spizzirri, Save-A-Life nor
any of its employees or agents have lied about any of the
circumstances surrounding Christina Spizzirri's death," the lawsuit
Spizzirri also had claimed to be a registered nurse and to have a
bachelor's of science degree in nursing, according to the ABC report,
archived SALF Web site pages and the credentials listed on the New
York Medical College Web site. On the college's Web site, Spizzirri is
listed as having an RN and BSN from Mt. Scenario College. The correct
spelling of the school is Mount Senario College, officials said.
Spizzirri did enroll in some courses at Mount Senario College in
Ladysmith, Wis., in 1986, but there is no record of her receiving a
degree, said Jerry Huffman, director of communications for the
Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. Mount
Senario closed in 2002.
Spizzirri has never been registered as a nurse in either Wisconsin or
Illinois, according to the Wisconsin Department of Regulation and
Licensing and the Illinois Department of Professional Regulation.
SALF has trained more than 1.6 million children in first aid and
cardiopulmonary resuscitation in 33 states and Puerto Rico, according
to its 2007-08 report. Ninety-one percent of the funding the
foundation receives is used for training, while 9 percent is used for
operating expenses, the report states.
In 2006, according to SALF's most recent available tax returns, the
foundation received $925,545 in revenue and spent $1.47 million.
Spizzirri's income was $130,000.
The Amlers are not listed as receiving any compensation on the tax
Robert Amler said he was "not particularly" concerned about the
questions raised about Save A Life and had no comment on Spizzirri's
"It's a very significant accomplishment to train young schoolchildren
effectively in basic first aid and CPR," he said.
Sherlita Amler also said she knows nothing about Spizzirri's
credentials. She hasn't spoken to Spizzirri in more than two years,
she said. At that time, Sherlita Amler said, she thought of getting
CPR training in the county through SALF, but learned that the county's
EMS offers it.
"I never heard anything bad said of the organization or people who
participated in the program complain about it. There are lots of
organizations started by parents who lost children," she said.
"Personally, I think first aid and CPR are great."
@2008 The Journal News
Putnam Health Commissioner Dr. Sherlita Amler denied having any ties
to the Save A Life Foundation or knowing her name was listed on its
medical advisory board earlier this month even though a county
legislator sent her a memo more than a year ago inquiring about her
involvement with the embattled agency.
County Legislature Chairman Tony Hay, R-Southeast, said he was
surprised to learn that Amler was still unaware that her name is
linked to the organization because he had already spoken to her on the
topic. Save A Life's founder apparently claimed professional
credentials she does not have and misrepresented the circumstances of
her teenage daughter's death, her reason for starting the group, which
teaches emergency first aid skills to school children.
Hay said he received an anonymous call and e-mails in December 2007
informing him that Amler and her husband were on the organization's
medical advisory board. Hay responded by sending Amler a memo on Dec.
12, 2007, detailing the caller's inquiries.
Hay said Amler contacted him by phone then and told him she didn't
know she was listed as a board member and that she has no ties to the
agency. The statements she made to Hay are similar to what she told
The Journal News earlier this month.
"I'm a little unsettled hearing a year later that she's saying the
same thing," Hay said last week. "I really thought after my
conversation with her that she would have gotten off it (the Web
Amler confirmed last week the exchange she had with Hay a year ago and
stressed again that she has no affiliation with the Illinois-based
nonprofit. She said she has not contacted Save A Life to settle the
apparent misrepresentation because it was not something she thought
was urgent and indicated that communicating with founder Carol
Spizzirri might be counterproductive.
"I have a job to do. I have a lot of issues on my plate. I don't have
time to mess with things that are not issues," Amler said, adding
later, "For me, the best thing is to keep my distance."
Controversy erupted over Save A Life Foundation, or SALF, two years
ago when a Chicago ABC 7 "I-Team" report claimed Spizzirri lied about
her nursing credentials while receiving millions of dollars in state
and federal funding for the national organization she started in 1993.
The ABC report also alleged that Spizzirri said her daughter died in a
hit-and-run accident and that she bled to death at the scene. That
account is not supported by a coroner's inquest, which determined her
daughter was legally drunk in September 1992 when she crashed her car
and was ejected from the vehicle, dying later at the hospital.
Save A Life responded by filing a defamation lawsuit last year against
three men, alleging they were key sources in the ABC report and
conspired to destroy the organization by disseminating false
information to numerous agencies who fund it. One of them, Peter
Heimlich, is the son of Dr. Henry Heimlich, a former Rye resident who
invented the procedure to aid choking victims and was once on Save A
Life's medical board. Peter Heimlich has engaged in a long-running
public feud with his father.
Earlier, Spizzirri said she could not respond to any inquiries by The
Journal News because of the ongoing litigation.
In 2005, Amler's husband, Dr. Robert Amler, appointed Spizzirri as a
visiting lecturer to New York Medical College, where he serves as dean
of the School of Public Health. As of Friday, Spizzirri was still
listed on the college's Web site as a registered nurse and having a
bachelor of science degree in nursing from Mount Scenario College.
These credentials are not found in state or college records and the
correct spelling of the college is Mount Senario.
Donna Moriarty, a spokeswoman for the medical college, said last week
"we are reviewing the matter."
Sherlita Amler, who has led Putnam's Health Department since 2004,
worked with Save A Life about six years ago, when she was a medical
officer with the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
in Atlanta. At that time, SALF received a federal grant and she served
as a "scientific adviser" on the project, she said.
Robert Amler also worked with SALF in 2003 when he was regional health
administrator for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
assisting the foundation with figuring out where to seek federal
funding, he said. Robert Amler said recently he knew he was on SALF's
medical advisory board and praised its public service work.
Sherlita Amler said it's been more than two years since she's spoken
to Spizzirri. At that time, she thought of getting CPR training in the
county through SALF, she said, but didn't follow through because she
learned that the county's EMS offers it.
She has never received any compensation from SALF, she said.
Meanwhile, Hay said he wishes Amler would make it a "priority" to
detach her name from the foundation.
"I don't want Putnam County muddied or her reputation dragged through
the mud," he said.