Saving young hearts, saving young athletes

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SEATTLE, Wash. (Ivanhoe Newswire) --If your child plays sports, chances are you’ve worried about concussions. But did you know the number one killer of young athletes is sudden cardiac arrest? These events are often detectable and treatable.

Seventeen-year-old Carley St. George has played sports for most of her young life.

“I play soccer, but I did gymnastics two years ago and I play basketball. I pretty much have done it all,” Carley told Ivanhoe.

So, when Carley took a sports participation screening, she was shocked at the results.

“It’s a hole in my heart between my right and left atrium,” Carley said.

Carley had surgery to fix her heart defect, but the problem could have been deadly. A young athlete dies from a cardiac incident once every three days in the U.S. In contrast, concussions cause just 1.5 deaths per year.

Dr. Hank Pelto says the heart events are usually brought on by a pre-existing, detectable condition.

“In young folks, these tend to be congenital heart problems either of the plumbing of the heart, or the walls of the heart, or the electrical signals of the heart,” Hank Pelto, MD, Family Medicine Doctor, UW Medicine, told Ivanhoe.

Most schools in the U.S. require a standard sports exam that includes listening to the heart, checking blood pressure, and reviewing family history.

However, many doctors believe adding an EKG could detect about two-thirds of the deadly heart problems that are aggravated by exercise.

“A heart screening is a critical part of any pre-participation exam,” Dr. Pelto said.

Tori Sorenson had an undetected heart defect. She went into cardiac arrest while playing college intramural basketball.

“They had to shock me four times before they could get my heart going again,” Tori Sorenson with the Nick of Time Foundation told Ivanhoe.

Today, she works with a non-profit group that offers free heart screenings at high schools.

“We find somebody at each screening who has a cardiac problem,” Tori said.

She wants every athlete to be screened so hearts and lives can be saved.

In other countries, most notably Italy, young athletes are required to have EKG’s to play sports. Adopting the practice in the U.S. could cost between 25 to 150 dollars per test, which may not be covered by insurance.

Dr. Pelto says most of the time you can request the test if you are not offered it.

BACKGROUND: Because young athletes are still growing, they are at a greater risk for injury than adults.  The consequences of overdoing a sport can include injuries that impair growth, and may lead to long-term health problems.  However, many youth sports injuries can be prevented.   Some of the most effective ways to prevent these injuries include pre-participation exams, age-specific coaching, proper use of equipment, and appropriate physical conditioning.  (Source:

CONCUSSIONS:  According to the University of Pittsburgh’s Brian Trauma Research Center, more than 300,000 sports-related concussions occur annually in the U.S., and the likelihood of suffering a concussion while playing a contact sport is estimated to be as high as 19 percent per year of play.  More than 62,000 concussions are sustained every year in high school contact sports. In college football players, 34 percent have had one concussion and 20 percent have endured multiple concussions.  Concussions can cause significant and sustained neuropsychological impairments in problem-solving, planning, information-processing speed, and memory.  Estimates show that between four and 20 percent of college and high school football players will sustain a brain injury over the course of one season.  Researchers at McGill University of Montreal found that 60 percent of college soccer players reported symptoms of a concussion at least during the season.  (Source:

SUDDEN CARDIAC ARREST:  Concussions have received national attention, but death from a blow to the head is extremely rare.  However, the number one killer of young athletes is sudden cardiac arrest, which is usually brought on by a pre-existing condition that could have been treated.   Researchers say a young athlete dies from a cardiac incident once every three days in the U.S.  “A sudden heart-related death is so incredibly tragic and stunning that people aren’t comfortable putting it into the everyday conversation,” Dr. Jonathan Drezner, the president of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, was quoted as saying. One factor that may be inhibiting the conversation is a widespread disagreement about the best course of action to reduce deaths from sudden cardiac arrest.  The physical examination that about every athlete in the U.S. must pass to play a school sport includes listening to the heart, reviewing family medical history, and checking blood pressure.  However, many doctors recommend adding an electrocardiogram (EKG).  They say it could detect about two-thirds of the deadly, concealed heart trouble aggravated by exercise in competition.  Sudden cardiac arrest in a young athlete is usually triggered by a structural heart defect or a problem with the heart’s electrical circuitry that is not usually found during a pre-participation exam.  The most frequent cause is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, thickening of the heart muscle.  Some school districts have arranged for discounted EKGs for their athletes, and several hospitals, like Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, offer to conduct an EKG and have it read by a pediatric cardiologist for $25.  Other hospitals, like Miami Children’s Hospital, have begun offering free EKGs for athletes.  (Source: