Teen heart screens aim to prevent sudden cardiac arrest.


by Jean Enersen

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Posted on June 4, 2011 at 10:00 AM

Updated Saturday, Jun 4 at 11:47 AM

Student body president Heejoon Choi was one of three hundred teens to get free heart screenings at Garfield High School. Like many, he's into sports.

"I play soccer, I do tennis, swimming and track," Choi explained.

The teens all seem to be in top shape. You might not think they'd need heart screenings. But athletes are at risk of a rare cardiac arrest triggered by exercise.

"I'm going to put some patches here," explained an EKG tester to senior Ruben Palmer, another athlete who went through the screening. Electrocardiograms, or EKGs can detect abnormalities in the heart's electrical activity.
Another test, a cardiac ultrasound, can see blood flow and heart valve problems. If the screens spotted a defect, the health team would advise a student to go for more formal tests.
On the team today, are health care providers from medics to cardiologists and other dedicated volunteers.

"A bunch of volunteers from UW medicine, Seattle children's, and the Nick of Time Foundation who come together to screen young kids and look for hidden heart disease," said Dr. Jonathan Drezner, Associate Professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Washington.

Sudden cardiac arrest killed 16 year old football player Nick Varrenti. So his family started the Nick of Time Foundation in his honor.

"This was something we didn't know about ahead of time. We know that there are other parents who don't have any idea that this can happen," said Nick's mother, Darla Varrenti, Executive Director of the Nick of Time Foundation.

Dr. Jonathan Drezner, Team Physician for the Seahawks and the UW Huskies was on site all day screening teen athletes. 

"What we know is that maybe as much as one in three hundred, four hundred kids may actually have a heart condition that puts them at risk for a considerable problem like cardiac arrest," Dr. Drezner said.
He advised parents to be alert for warning signs of heart problems. They include chest pain or passing out during exercise, a child's heart racing when it shouldn't, or a child who is more out of breath than peers during exercise. All those are signals a child needs to see a health care provider.
He also said it's important for your child's pediatrician to know about your family history of heart problems, including early heart attack deaths.

What happens if a heart problem is uncovered? There are a number of treatments for children with heart problems, depending on the severity.

"Sometimes those interventions are medications, sometimes they're activity limitations, or restrictions from sport. Occasionally it could be a more invasive procedure or even surgery," Dr. Drezner said.

Ruben Palmer passed the heart screen with flying colors, but said he'd choose his health over sports if he'd needed to.

"Sports is my life. It always has been. That would be a tough choice. But if it has to happen for my health then it's necessary," he said.

The Nick of Time Foundation and partners hope to place over 200 defibrillators in seattle schools by this fall.