Many believe that athletes are at risk of the greatest injury while playing on the field, but one of the most common killers of student athletes is silent. The first sign of sudden cardiac arrest in young athletes is often sudden death and then it’s too late. When news circulates about the tragic death of a young athlete, many parents are left wondering: What can I do to lower my child’s risk of sudden cardiac death?
On April 4th–as Indianapolis plays hosts to the NCAA Final Four–Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health, Giving Hearts a Hand, Simons Fund and Screen Across America will come together at Crispus Attucks Medical Magnet School from 10 am to 2 pm to offer local youth, ages 13 to 19, a free echocardiogram (cardiac ultrasound) and EKG screening to evaluate the student’s risk for sudden cardiac death. The 15-minute process is a non-invasive way to rule out the major cardiac conditions that can affect young athletes. But student participants aren’t required to be athletes-sudden cardiac arrest can happen on the playground just as easily as the playing field.
Basketball players are at a higher risk for cardiac arrest. So are certain ethnic groups. The most common cause is an abnormal thickening of the heart, called Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy. It causes half of the sudden death cases involving young athletes. But there are other abnormalities that can cause the heart to go into a dangerous and often deadly irregular rhythm, including Marfan Syndrome, Aortic Stenosis and Mitral Valve Prolapse.
“Among young athletes the risk of sudden cardiac arrest can be considered rare, but when it does occur, it is very tragic with a very low survival rate,” says Dr. Edward Harlamert, a cardiologist with IU Health and physician director of the Echoes for Athletes program. “One of the most important things to know is that a significant number of the processes or diseases can run in families. With the appropriate therapy, these diseases can be managed and the athletes can continue to participate in sports.”
An echocardiogram, or “Echo”, is an ultrasound of a heart, explains Laura Combs, program director of IU Health’s Echoes for Athletes. “It’s just like the ultrasound they do of babies, same technology. Using a probe and some water-based gel, we look for certain parameters that could be linked to sudden cardiac death.”
An echo measures the shape, size and internal structure of the heart while an EKG measure’s the heart’s electrical efficiency. Involving clinicians experienced at reading pediatric electrocardiograms is the key to a reliable screening. The April 4th screening event will be conducted by cardiologists and echo techs from Riley Hospital for Children.
Families interested in participating in the April 4th screening are encouraged to register early. Appointment times are available by logging onto: www.simonsfund.org . Click on the Crispus Attucks (April 4th) location and complete the consent and registration process.