Each year, approximately 100 children in the United States suffer sudden cardiac death.
These cases often take place during sporting events or athletic training, and end with a tragic loss not only for the individual and their family, but for the community as well.
In an attempt to detect heart abnormalities early, Northern Michigan Regional Hospital and Michigan Heart and Vascular Specialists of Petoskey will sponsor a free student heart screening for both athletes and non-athletes, in grades nine through 12.
The screenings will take place from 3:30-7:30 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 10, at the John and Marnie Demmer Wellness Pavilion and Dialysis Center in Petoskey.
“These cases are really getting national attention because it’s an attention grabber when a young athletes goes down in front of hundreds, if not thousands of people at an event,” said Dr. Jason Ricci, a interventional cardiologist with Michigan Heart and Vascular, a department of Northern Michigan Regional Hospital. “It’s something that is extremely difficult to watch for not only the family of that athlete, but for those in the community.”
Over the past eight years, more than 29 young people in Michigan have lost their lives to an exertion-related disease of the heart muscle called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Most did not know they were even at risk.
In February, 2008, Petoskey High School junior, DeShawn Hodgkinson, died from sudden cardiac arrest while running laps during gym class.
In March of this year, 16 year-old Wes Leonard, a basketball player at Fennville High School near Holland, collapsed on the gym floor after making a winning basket.
A forensic pathologist determined Leonard’s death was a result of cardiac arrest because of dilated cardiomyopathy, or an enlarged heart, a condition that had gone unnoticed.
Because of events like these, Josh Kuhlman, 16, a sophomore at Petoskey High School, said he wants to have his heart checked out.
Kuhlman plays both football and lacrosse, and knows that heart abnormalities often go undetected.
“I’ve seen these stories on the news and it’s just really scary because it can happen to anyone,” Kuhlman said.
Ricci said it can be challenging to diagnose abnormalities of the heart because there are a variety of different conditions that could put young people in danger.
While every student athlete does undergo some medical screening, heart screenings are not part of the regular procedure.
The heart screening, which will take approximately one hour, will include: medical history, blood pressure check, electrocardiogram, physical consultation and an echocardiogram if required.
Through this screening, structural abnormalities and arrhythmias can be detected and necessary treatment to correct or control the condition can be initiated.
“If we do find something that is a real risk, we may ask a student to abstain from vigorous physical activity, but it’s all on an individual basis,” Ricci said.
“I understand that it can be challenging as a teen to be told you have a heart abnormality and have to stop with the high level physical activity, and these conditions are extremely rare, but these are tests that are extremely important,” he added.
Ricci said warning signs of heart abnormalities teens should look for include: chest pain during a physical event, light-headedness during activity and profound shortness of breath.
“Sometimes, the warning sign is death, which we are really trying to avoid,” Ricci said.
Registration for the screening is required. To register or learn more, call (800) 248-6777.