By Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe and Darla Varrenti
Did you know that the leading cause of death in young athletes participating in sports is sudden heart failure?
It’s true — in fact, one high school-aged athlete suffers sudden cardiac arrest every three days in the United States. The tragic reality is that most of these deaths are completely preventable.
Sudden cardiac death is the result of an unexpected failure of proper heart function, usually during or immediately after exercise. Since the heart stops pumping adequately, the child quickly collapses, loses consciousness, and ultimately dies unless normal heart rhythm is restored with CPR or using an automated external defibrillator.
Nick Varrenti, a 16-year old football player, was a dynamic young man with a bright future and a magnetic smile. After a football game in 2004, Nick suffered sudden cardiac arrest and died. In response to his sudden and tragic death, his mother, Darla Varrenti, formed the Nick of Time Foundation. Nick of Time is committed to keeping others with hidden cardiac problems alive by educating school districts and communities about the problem, offering training in CPR, and providing heart health screenings at local schools and community.
The Nick of Time Foundation’s most recent youth heart health screening was at Inglemore High School in Bothell. By the end of the day, 328 young hearts were screened and 10 were found to have problems that required follow-up and monitoring. These young people would have had no idea that they were in any danger, but thanks to preventative monitoring they are now able to address the problem before it turns deadly.
These screenings demonstrate the clear need for more preventative care and statewide awareness. Washington state has already taken action to raise awareness of, and prevent concussions, in student athletes. The state should now take similar steps to prevent sudden cardiac arrest among young people, as five other states have.
In the next legislative session, we will propose legislation that requires student athletes to complete a cardiac review before participating in a sport. In addition, similar to concussion rules that are already in place, student athletes who show symptoms of heart failure should immediately be removed from a sporting event or practice.
Before our kids storm the court or step onto a ball field, we should be certain their hearts are capable of strenuous activity. No parent should suffer the terrible loss and heartbreak of losing their child to sudden cardiac arrest.
For now, we strongly recommend that student athletes be encouraged to get screened so that these unnecessary tragedies can be avoided. The Nick of Time Foundation will host its next youth heart screening from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday at Decatur High School, 2800 S.W. 320th St, Federal Way. Another screening will be hosted from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday, August 27, at Marysville-Getchell High School, 8301 84th St N.E. Marysville. These screenings are free to all high school students in the area. Students are encouraged to register for the screening at http://nickoftimefoundation.org/screening/.
You can learn more at nickoftimefoundation.org.
With support from families and schools, we’ll be looking to pass the Cardiac Arrest Prevention Act into law in 2015.
Sen. McAuliffe is the ranking member on the Senate Early Learning &K-12 Education Committee.
Darla Varrenti is the founder of the Nick of Time Foundation