350 Arlington teens’ hearts checked for unseen danger

ARLINGTON — They all look so healthy.

More than 350 young people had their hearts checked out Wednesday in the Arlington High School gym during a free health screening offered by volunteers with the Nick of Time Foundation.

The scene didn’t fit with the conventional view of heart conditions — that only older people have problems.

Kayla Burt was happy to see so many teens getting electrocardiograms.

A 2001 graduate of Arlington High, Burt was a member of the University of Washington women’s basketball team when she collapsed at home on New Year’s Eve 2002.

She suffered sudden cardiac arrest, the leading cause of death among young athletes. There was no prior indication that Burt had a problem.

That night her teammates kept Burt alive, performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation until paramedics arrived. Six days later she had a defibrillator implanted in her chest. Now 29, Burt is an outreach coordinator with the Hope Heart Institute of Bellevue and a frequent speaker at hospitals and clinics throughout the region. She also volunteers at events sponsored by the Mill Creek-based Nick of Time.

“My life was saved,” Burt said. “I’m here to give back, especially here in my home community.”

Arlington High School freshman Caleb Smith, 15, is a runner. On Wednesday, he took advantage of the chance to make sure he’s not at risk for sudden cardiac arrest.

“This was really cool,” Caleb said of the free exams. “Now I don’t have to worry.”

The screenings not only help students and their families with heart health education and detection, but the statistics gathered are given to the University of Washington with the hope that such extensive examinations will become a regular part of well-child check-ups and physicals for teen athletes, said Darla Varrenti, executive director of Nick of Time.

The foundation also seeks to have automated external defibrillators installed at all schools, she said.

Nick of Time is named for Varrenti’s son, the late Nicholas Varrenti. Nick died in 2004 of sudden cardiac arrest after a busy weekend playing football. He was 16.

“Nick’s death was devastating to our community,” Varrenti said. “We do this because we don’t want another community to have to go through it. Along with the screenings, the young people who participate become aware of CPR. They are going to be our next generation of first responders.”

According to the American Heart Association, 1 in every 350 young people has an undetected heart condition, and sudden cardiac arrest happens among exercising youth once every three days in the United States.

“If even just one teenager is saved through this screening process today, we’ve done our job,” Varrenti said. “Right now in this country, many doctors don’t do a thorough evaluation before giving the OK for students to participate in athletics.”

Mothers Christine Mair of Marysville and Kathy Rodriguez of Arlington waited while their sons were screened for heart conditions.

“My son plays tennis and he has been grabbing his chest a lot,” Mair said. “We needed him to get this exam.”

Nika Wascher, a 21-year-old Edmonds Community College basketball player and a 2009 Marysville Pilchuck High School graduate, donated $25 to the foundation for her screening on Wednesday.

“It’s well worth it to know that I am healthy,” she said. “The screening is worth more than $1,500, and it is so great because many people cannot afford it otherwise.”

More than 100 volunteers helped on Wednesday, including those with Nick of Time, UW Medicine, Seattle Children’s, Arlington Fire Department, Cascade Valley Hospital and Providence Regional Medical Center.

The next local heart screening for young people age 14 through 24 is set for Nov. 7 at Snohomish High School. Screenings at Edmonds-Woodway and Cascade high schools are scheduled in 2013.

For more information, go to www.nickoftimefoundation.org.

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