No mandate for HS athlete heart test
SouthtownStar editorial June 21, 2012 9:50PM
Updated: July 23, 2012 7:50AM
A young person’s unexpected death shocks us into the same natural reaction — find a way to stop the next child from suffering the same tragedy.
So it has been for the parents of Dominic Duran, Kendall Tapley, Paul Simmons and Tom Schuman, Southland high school athletes who died in recent years from undiagnosed heart ailments. The fact that sudden cardiac arrest among young athletes is rare — only one in 50,000 dies from it each year — does not lessen our appreciation for their parents’ anguish.
The boys’ parents and some doctors believe all high school athletes should be tested to help prevent such deaths. The major obstacles to that are cost and the incidence among the young — about 2,000 younger than 25 die of sudden cardiac arrest every year nationwide, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
If we could afford every test to thwart tragic death, then there would be no need to debate. The reality is that neither the government nor health insurers can pay for testing many millions of schoolchildren for such a rare condition.
But that does not mean there are no reasonable options within reach. School districts can provide a first line of defense by making automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) immediately accessible for teachers, coaches and counselors trained in using them.
Second, parents are not limited by expensive preventive tests to keep their children safer. Make sure you know well your family medical history and insist on a thorough sports physical exam for your child. Learn to identify warning signals by carefully listening to your children’s hearts as they stand, squat and lie down and by checking their pulse in all four extremities.
Or parents can pay for a combined electrocardiogram/echocardiogram that can identify 90 percent of the warning signs. But the cost of the exams is daunting, as much as $3,000.
At the intersection of medicine, safety and costs, the latter often is the determinant. Until that changes with heart screening, the intersection has a stop sign posted.