Missing a beat, should high school athletes undergo heart screenings

Lexington, Ky. (WKYT)-Should high school athletes be screened for heart conditions?

While it seems the number of students suddenly dying of cardiac arrest has become more prevalent, cardiologists say its still rare.

WKYT's Amber Philpott looks at the debate over early screening and why one University of Kentucky doctor says the focus on just student athletes might mean others are missed.

The chance of a high school athlete in this country collapsing from sudden cardiac arrest is rare, but one in 300,000 will die.

Many times its student athletes that garner the headlines, but then there are students like 15-year-old Savanna Noe who don't.

On July 29th, 2012 Savanna suffered from sudden cardiac arrest while at home swimming.

"I was holding my breath underneath and I went back and forth twice. I came up and I started to pat my chest, my dad said my face turned red and then I just collapsed into the pool," said Noe.

Savanna now has an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator in her chest and is monitored by Dr. Anna Kamp a University of Kentucky Pediatric Cardiologist.

Dr. Kamp says extensive testing on Savanna still couldn't determine a cause for her sudden cardiac arrest.

When a high school athlete suffers from cardiac arrest people are often times quick to ask why a pre-season physical didn't catch it.

While Savanna wasn't a high school athlete her story is one that Dr. Kamp says we should pay attention to.

"There is one school of thought that thinks we should be getting a screening EKG on every student athlete, as I mentioned its not just the athletes participating in high school activities that could have sudden cardiac arrest we would be missing people," said Dr. Kamp.

Missing people like Savanna who could have just as easily had her heart fail while in school and not on the playing field.

The use of screening EKG's on student athletes is not recommended by the American Heart Association because sudden cardiac arrest cannot be completley ruled out even if a patient has a normal reading.

Right now Kentucky high school athletes are required to undergo a pre-season physical that closely follows a recommended screening by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology.

The 12 point screening starts with a patient's family doctor, and looks at a child's personal and family medical history looking for anything that could signal a problem.

Dr. Kamp agrees the use of a costly screening like an EKG on all athletes would catch some of the potential causes, but not all like Savanna.

"She had a cardiac arrest and after when we were trying to evaluate why that happened she had a normal EKG, she had a normal echocardiogram, she had a normal cardiac MRI," said Dr. Kamp.

Until the data proves other wise, Dr. Kamp says there is something we can all focus on.

"What saved Savanna's life and what saved my other patients life is good CPR," said Dr. Kamp.

With only a scar now, Savanna can now concentrate on making sure others know how to save lives.

"I'm trying to get everyone to learn CPR, especially teachers and bus drivers because I just think if you are going to be around kids well anybody you should know CPR," said Noe.

Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy is the most common cause of sudden cardiac arrest in young people.

Doctor Kamp says as a parent make sure your child pays attention to his or her body, and to always know your family's heart history.

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