HANCOCK COUNTY – Brian Goff loved to be out on a ball diamond.

For more than 30 years, he was a fixture on fields across the area, playing in games against teams from near and far. He never went more than a few days without strutting into a park, picking up a ball, putting a bat on his shoulder or a glove on his hand.

If he had to go — if God had to take him away, his family said — it was fitting that he went doing what he loved: playing ball, surrounded by his buddies, laughing and joking as they kicked up dirt. And if Goff had to go, something good had to come from his death, his relatives decided. If they were going to be left to live without him, something positive needed to come from their sorrow.

Goff, a Fortville native, a husband and father of two, was playing in a softball tournament near Cincinnati in September 2015 when he suffered a heart attack and collapsed on the field. The park where he was playing at the time – a small complex a bit outside the city — wasn’t equipped with an automated external defibrillator, also known as an AED.

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Had the park had the portable device that delivers an electric shock to a heart that has stopped beating, Goff might have been saved, his family said.

In the weeks after he died, Goff’s wife, children and siblings founded Brian’s Heart, Inc. — a nonprofit organization dedicated to purchasing AEDs for local groups that might not otherwise be able to afford the device.

Goff’s family says their goal is to put an AED in every place a person might need one, ensuring no other family faces the same sadness they have.

Since its inception, Brian’s Heart has collected more than $10,000 – enough money to purchase six AEDs for area sports teams and complexes, including the Greenfield Parks and Recreation Department. Over the weekend, the family hosted a memorial softball tournament at Brandywine Park that served as a fundraiser to further the organization’s cause.

The Goffs say they’ll use the profits from the event to purchase at least six additional AEDs for around Hancock County, including inside a local library, an area business and at a pair of local parks.

Linda Goff, Brian Goff’s wife, hopes those AEDs never have to be used to save a life. She hopes they sit in area dugouts — like monuments to her husband’s memory — never to be touched.

But at least they’ll be there, she said. Just in case.

A lingering question

Brian Goff was 53 years old when he died.

He was a quiet but funny man, Linda Goff said. He rarely talked; but when he did, he could make a whole room roar with laughter. He was the picture of health and happiness, fit and carefree, his family said.

His days away from the roofing company where he worked were spent traveling the Midwest with a softball team made up of men in their 50s.

He loved every minute of the time he spent playing ball, Linda Goff said.

He seemed perfectly healthy the day he died, she said. But moments before he collapsed on that field, he started to complain of chest pain.

His teammates and others at the park that day tried their best to save him. They called 911 and started CPR while help headed their way. Their actions, doctors later told the Goff family, kept Brian alive long enough for his wife and children to drive to the hospital and say their goodbyes, Linda Goff said.

Brian Goff lived for about 12 hours, though he never regained consciousness. His wife and his children, Tyler and Stephanie, rushed to his hospital bedside. Held his hand one last time.

Linda Goff said she found peace in the camaraderie of her husband’s teammates. Hundreds came to Brian’s funeral, some from far away, to say goodbye to the man who’d left a positive impression on their lives after long days on the softball diamonds.

But one question lingered in Linda Goff’s mind when she laid to sleep at night.

She wondered tirelessly if something more could have been done to save her husband’s life. She was so thankful for his friends, grateful they’d rushed to his aid, appreciative of the doctors and nurses at the hospital who fought so hard to bring him back.

In the days that followed, she constantly asked herself one question: Would Brian still be alive if the park had an AED? His teammates could have shocked his heart even before the first-responders arrived, she thought.

She didn’t want those same unanswerable questions to keep another widow up at night, she said.

A bigger purpose

As they mourned, Brian Goff’s loved ones decided they needed to channel their grief into something positive, to celebrate Brian’s life and serve a bigger purpose. The idea to start a nonprofit in his honor came as they sat around the kitchen table one night wondering what more they could do.

AEDs cost about $1,200 each, and many city ballparks, small businesses or nonprofit centers can’t find the extra funding in their budgets to purchase the devices, said Kay Burdine, Brian Goff’s sister. So, with that in mind, the family found their new mission, she said – to purchase and place a defibrillator in spots around the community where they are most needed.

A year ago, they filed the paperwork to form a 501C3 and began planning their first fundraiser. A softball tournament, of course, seemed the most fitting, Brad Goff, Brian’s brother said.

Eight teams participated in the inaugural Brian’s Heart Softball Tournament in 2016, bringing in more than $10,000 that was then used to purchase six AEDs for local groups.

Another eight teams gathered at Brandywine Park in Greenfield on Saturday for the second year, when the Goffs expected to have raised roughly the same amount of money. They hope as the years go by their organization grows and their mission stretches well beyond Hancock County, Burdine said.

Despite her still heavy heart, Linda Goff said she’s determined to make the annual softball tournaments a happy occasion.

Her husband brought such joy into others’ lives, she said. So when they gather every year in his memory, they will be joyful, as he would want them to be, she said.

“I didn’t want another memorial service, another time when people can be sad … or think about what could have been,” Linda Goff said. “He died doing what he loved to do, and you can’t ask for anything more than that.”

What is an AED?

An automated external defibrillator, or AED, is a portable device that can correct an irregular heart beat by delivering an electric shock through the chest.

Members of the public, even those with no medical training, can use an AED in an emergency to reestablish a heart’s normal rhythm following cardiac arrest — the sudden loss of heart function, breathing and consciousness that, if not treated within minutes, will quickly lead to death.

Experts suggest that AEDs be placed wherever large groups might gather. Their locations should be clearly marked for quick access in an emergency. When needed, the device gives the user step-by-step instructions with voice prompts, lights and text.

Provided by the American Heart Association

How to help

Brian’s Heart, Inc. — a nonprofit organization dedicated to purchasing AEDs for local groups that might not otherwise be able to afford the device — operates in memory of Brian Goff of Fortville, who died in 2015 after suffering a heart attack during a softball game.

Anyone interested in donating to the cause can visit the organization’s Facebook page. Already Goff’s family has placed six AEDs throughout the community: one was placed in Brandywine Park in Greenfield; two gifted to local men’s travel softball teams; and three were placed in sports complexes around the area where Goff regularly played.

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.