Doctors Hospital introduces new cardiac screening for young athletes

By: Hope Jensen Email
By: Hope Jensen Email

News 12 This Morning / Friday, Aug. 31, 2012

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- It could potentially save a life. That's what doctors are saying about a new cardiac screening for young athletes.

You hear it all too often, athletes dying on the field during a practice or game and nobody knows why. They seemed fine before and weren't showing any symptoms of a heart problem, but something happened.

It's estimated that each year more than 110 heart-related deaths occur in young athletes. Eighty percent of those had no abnormal cardiac symptoms before sudden cardiac death occurred.

Now, doctors are trying to make sure that when your child steps out onto the field, they are safe. Doctors Hospital is doing this by offering a new cardiac screening for young athletes that tests their hearts for abnormalities.

Chandler Cooper is a freshman at Greenbriar High School who had the screening. He plays football and he and his teammates spend a lot of time on the field.

"We have about two and a half hour practices five days a week," he explained.

He doesn't have any heart problems, but his mom still worries.

"You always read that these athletes that had sudden death were fine. They had no symptoms, they didn't feel bad and they just unfortunately died suddenly," said his mother, Kim Cooper. “I couldn't have lived with that."

She decided to have him do the cardiac screening at Doctors Hospital.

“When I heard about this it was a great way to give me peace of mind. To know that there was nothing wrong with his heart,” she said.

Elizabeth Lamb, director of Sports Medicine at Doctors Hospital, helped design the screening.

“The cardiac screening was designed to pick up on certain heart defects that can put young athletes at risk for sudden cardiac death,” she said.

It's a new screening for kids ages 12 to 22 that consists of two tests, an EKG and a limited echo cardiogram.

“It is a screening, so it's not going to pick up on 100 percent everything, but it can zero in on those common conditions that you wouldn't normally know about beforehand which could potentially prevent a sudden cardiac death,” Lamb said.

For parents, it stops the worrying while their kids are on the field.

“I have no hesitations or worries that his heart is OK, that that's not gonna be an issue,” Cooper said.

The athletes feel better, too.

“I feel a lot safer,” Cooper's son said.

Both Chandler and the doctors say it's something they would recommend for all young athletes.

“I think everyone should get it,” Chandler said. “I think it's a really good thing.”

“It’s important, I think, from a parent's perspective just to have that peace of mind, but certainly, in the end, it could potentially save a life,” Lamb said.

The screening costs $180 and takes around one hour to complete. No insurance is required. The screening is for athletes who have no history of cardiac symptoms. If you do, this screening is not for you, and you should see a cardiologist.

If you receive an abnormal screening, they would just let you know there were abnormalities and leave it up to the parents to decide what to do. You could go see your physician or a cardiologist for a full work-up or you do not have to take any action.

An abnormality just means that you are at risk. It does not mean that you will suffer sudden cardiac death.

To schedule a screening, call (706) 651-4343.

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