A non-profit is offering free heart screenings to student athletes at a Pleasanton middle school this Sunday.
The non-invasive tests start with taking a family history and are designed to detect heart conditions that regular pediatric exams and pre-participation sports physicals can’t spot. Pediatric cardiologist Andrew Maxwell says children can suffer from sudden cardiac arrest too.
“Certain sports are higher risk, basketball being one of the highest,” he said. “Football too, but any sport that’s taken seriously and practiced by a young athlete carries some risk of sudden heart arrest with these conditions.”
With an echocardiogram, Maxwell can see deep into the heart of his patient and examine the valves and walls for abnormalities. An EKG lets him listen to a patient's heart.
Seventh-grader Zieren Clark knows the routine, because his heart murmur was diagnosed when he was a small child and he gets regular cardiac tests. He want other teenagers to get screened for cardiac problems, especially if they’re playing sports.
His mother, Patricia Clark of Pleasanton, lost her husband Spencer to a massive heart attack when Zieren was only 4-years-old.
“At first you don’t want to know,” that a child has the same genetic heart problems as a family member who died young, she said. “But I’ve learned that it’s better to know, so you know how to take care of them.”
Clark says she gets comfort by volunteering her time to organize cardiac screenings for the non-profit Via Heart Project.
She also works to get Automated External Defibrillators, or AEDs, in schools and businesses. She says an AED might have saved her husband’s life.
While the teens wait for their screenings at Sunday’s event, they’ll learn basic CPR and how and when to use an AED.
“In every screening my only hope is to be able to help one family, to be able to spare them from what our family had to endure through prevention and education,” she said.
She worries about her son, but has learned to talk with him about his condition, assess risk and let him play sports and live his life.
Recent screenings held in Danville were attended by only a handful of families, Clark said. But one tragic story about a young person falling down on an athletic field because of an unknown heart condition, and the screening would be packed with people.
“When it happens to a community, when an athlete does die suddenly playing their sport, it is devastating,” Dr. Maxwell said. “You say, is there anything that could have been done? Yes, there is: this screening.”
Current recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics do not call for specialized cardiac testing unless a careful family history indicates a higher risk.
The AAP says 2,000 people under the age of 25 die from sudden cardiac arrest in the United States every year, with the risk for student athletes three times higher than for sedentary youth.
The screening event will be held Sunday, March 20, 9am-3pm at Thomas S. Hart Middle School, 4433 Willow Road in Pleasanton. Parents can pre-register at viaheartproject.org.