Mill Creek family works to protect teens from cardiac arrest



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Posted on May 29, 2010 at 12:12 PM

When a teen in Mill Creek died of sudden cardiac arrest his family decided to take action. Their efforts are protecting other students from the devastating consequences of heart problems.

Salim Gloyd is a star basketball player at Ballard High School. It's a game that demands peak performance.

"You can feel your heart racing. All the blood's rushing, the adrenaline," he said.

That's the same commitment Mill Creek junior Nick Varrenti brought to football. One weekend in 2004 he played both a varsity and a JV game.

"And we went in to wake him up for football practice on Monday and he had died," said Nick's mother, Darla.

Nick's heart condition had gone undetected.

To cope with his loss his mother and family organized the Nick of Time Foundation. They're on a mission to make sure other students go through preventive screening.  

"I would do this every week if we could, every day if we could," said Darla.

The screenings are free through the Heart of Seattle Schools Project. The team of volunteers includes Seattle firefighters and the Seahawks team physician.

Dr. Jonathan Drezner says standard sports physicals may not pick up an athlete's heart condition.

"One of the challenges to detect these children who might have a heart problem, is that most of them who have a heart problem don't have symptoms," he said.

He says a child's physical should include a comprehensive family history. Then ask your doctor if an EKG or an echocardiogram would benefit your child.

"If you have a normal EKG and you have no symptoms, you can feel pretty heart safe," said Dr. Drezner.

Donors working with the foundation are funding automatic external defibrillators for schools and athletic fields. They can raise the chance of surviving a stopped heart from 10 percent to 60 percent.

Salim passed with flying colors, and wants others to take the challenge.

"We want to know you're healthy to play, so you're not at risk," he said.

If everything goes according to plan, the portable devices to treat cardiac arrest will be in all Seattle Public Schools this fall.

The warning signs of cardiac arrest include:

  • Extreme shortness of breath,
  • Light headedness,
  • Heart palpitations
  • Fainting during exercise.

Experts say get immediate attention for the symptoms.