Heart testing urged in wake of Clayton athlete’s death

tstevens@newsobserver.comApril 18, 2013 

  • Free ECG testing

    WakeMed is providing free electrocardiograms on Saturday for athletes ages 12 to 18. The screenings will take place at the WakeMed Heart Center on New Bern Avenue in Raleigh between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Go to www.wakemed.org to make reservations.

    American Heart Association’s 12-point screening

    Personal history

    1. Chest pain/discomfort upon exertion

    2. Unexplained fainting or near-fainting

    3. Excessive and unexplained fatigue associated with exercise

    4. Heart murmur

    5. High blood pressure

    Family history

    6. One or more relatives who died of heart disease (sudden/unexpected or otherwise) before age 50

    7. Close relative under age 50 with disability from heart disease

    8. Specific knowledge of certain cardiac conditions in family members: hypertrophic or dilated cardiomyopathy in which the heart cavity or wall becomes enlarged; long QT syndrome, which affects the heart’s electrical rhythm; Marfan syndrome in which the walls of the heart’s major arteries are weakened; or clinically important arrhythmias or heart rhythms.

    Physical examination

    9. Heart murmur

    10. Femoral pulses to exclude narrowing of the aorta

    11. Physical appearance of Marfan syndrome

    12. Brachial artery blood pressure (taken in a sitting position)

Clayton High senior baseball player Hogan Teem died while on a conditioning run with his teammates in December as a result of an irregular heartbeat coupled with a weakened heart muscle, a heart condition that might have been identified by an electrocardiogram.

The condition is not detectable during the routine physical that all N.C. High School Athletic Association athletes must have each year. Alyson Teem, Hogan’s mother, believes her son’s condition would have been discovered if he had received an electrocardiogram (ECG) and she is doing everything she can to get athletes to Saturday’s free ECG screenings at WakeMed’s Raleigh campus.

“My dream is that so many parents will have their children at the tests that the line will stretch out to New Bern Avenue,” she said. “If these tests will help one family then Hogan will continue making a difference in the world.”

The WakeMed’s SportFit Heart program is providing free ECG screenings for young athletes ages 12 to 18. The screenings will take place at the WakeMed Heart Center on New Bern Avenue in Raleigh between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Parents may set up an appointment for the five-minute test by registering on-line at www.wakemed.org.

An electrocardiogram is a simple, non-invasive test that measures electrical activity in the heart. Electrodes are placed on the body and the activity of the heart is recorded.

This is the second year WakeMed has offered the free testing and Teem is doing all she can to spread the word.

Teem has called the athletic directors at Johnston County Schools to urge them to have their athletes tested. She said she doesn’t use social media much, but went on Facebook recently befriending acquaintances and old friends so that they will know about the clinic.

“Many of them have children who are Hogan’s age,” she said. “They don’t know. They can’t know.

“Hogan never was sick, never missed a day of school. He appeared to be in perfect health. I believe these tests will save lives.

There is a national debate about the effectiveness of large numbers of high school athletes receiving ECG tests, but WakeMed’s Dr. Mark Piehl (pronounced peal) said he believes the testing is beneficial.

“Hopefully, we can prevent a major heart event and perhaps a sudden death,” said Piehl, the medical director of WakeMed Children’s Hospital and a pediatric intensive care physician.

In a policy statement published in the journal Pediatrics in 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics estimated that 2,000 people under the age of 25 die from sudden cardiac arrest in the United States every year.

Currently, the American Heart Association’s 12-point screening program for identifying athletes at risk of sudden cardiac arrest relies on a physical exam that includes routine tests and an interview designed to uncover possible heart problems.

An ECG is another tool in discovering potential heart problems.

The national discussion revolves around the cost of the ECG, estimated at around $150; the more than seven million U.S. high school athletes, and the difficulty of getting the testing done in some regions of the country.

There also is concern about some athletes who are healthy and not at risk for sudden heart problems being excluded from sports because of an abnormality on the test. The test can create anxiety, which can lead to abnormal readings.

“But I believe we can save lives,” Piehl said. “I look forward to doing more of them.”

If an ECG indicates a problem, further testing may be required.

But Piehl stresses no test, or series of tests, can guarantee 100 percent that an athlete can participate safely.

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