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Volunteer to screen teens for heart condition
By Joni Hirsch Blackman | Daily Herald Columnist

Zamarri Doby

 

Roosevelt Jones

 

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Published: 1/19/2009 12:16 AM

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When the old year ended, did you say to yourself (after "good riddance!"), "I wish I'd found more time to volunteer last year?"

If so - and even if not - here's a great opportunity to volunteer in a way that doesn't come along often.

I think volunteers want a specific time and place to show up, with enough notice to get it on their calendar. They want to make a difference, but they want to know when they will be finished.

If it's a finite number of times they have to be there, that's good, too - with the possibility of adding more sessions if desired. Flexibility is nice, as is a chance to spend time with both the people you're volunteering to help and other volunteers.

This opportunity has all that - and it's a chance to be part of the most important component of a huge undertaking to help save the lives of young people.

Without you, Indian Prairie Unit District 204 wouldn't be able to finally offer heart screenings to its 8,500 high school students. Volunteers are the key to be able to screen that many kids - nearly half as many as Midwest Heart Community Foundation has screened since 2006 - in just six days.

What they're looking for is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a genetic abnormality that affects approximately 1 in 500 people. According to a district news release, HCM is the most common cause of sudden death in young adults.

HCM has claimed the lives of several students in our area, including three District 204 students: Zamarri Doby, a Waubonsie Valley junior in 2008; Roosevelt Jones III, a Neuqua Valley senior in 2004; and Signe Jenkins, a Waubonsie Valley senior in 1984.

Midwest Heart's Young Hearts for Life Cardiac Screening uses electrocardiograms, which detect certain impulse patterns or "markers" associated with HCM that a stethoscope cannot.

The program is free to students and completely voluntary. The idea is that after a three-minute electrocardiogram (EKG), students at risk for sudden cardiac death - and other undiagnosed heart problems - can be identified.

Any student who has an abnormal EKG (cardiologists will read the EKGs immediately on-site) will be referred for further testing. Experts caution to expect a false positive rate of anywhere from 2 to 20 percent.

Edward Hospital and the Indian Prairie Educational Foundation are helping to provide the mind-boggling program, though the foundation invites local businesses to offer support as well. Heart specialists volunteer their time. Nearly 300 community volunteers will be needed to donate theirs as well.

In a 90-minute training session (to be offered at several times days before each screening) volunteers will be taught all they need to know to help. Then, if you never want to help again, that's fine. If you do, you're already trained and can volunteer at future screenings.

Local screenings will be offered March 19 and 20 at Waubonsie Valley's main campus and April 9 at Waubonsie's freshman campus as well as April 16 and 17 at Neuqua Valley's main campus and May 1 at Neuqua's freshman building.

Only current District 204 high school students are eligible for this screening.

(If you're like me and read stories about previous screenings in Naperville Unit District 203 and other districts and were disappointed your child's school wasn't offering screenings, you could ask your child's primary doctor to refer the child for an EKG. If your doctor is unwilling, call Midwest Heart Specialists to arrange for a screening that will cost about $60 and will not be covered by insurance.)

Approximately 30 young adults die each week across the country because of this undiagnosed condition. But there is controversy in the medical community about the value of EKG screenings as some feel it is too expensive and time consuming for a relatively "small" result.

Joseph Marek, Midwest Heart Specialists cardiologist and program director for Young Hearts for Life, admits the EKGs will detect only 40 to 60 percent of the young adults at risk for this condition. But, he said, why not prevent half the deaths if we can? I agree.

Death from HCM is uncommon, according to a 2005 article by Jere Longman in The New York Times cited by Marek, but "most athletic fatalities occur during training and competition. For many athletes, death is the first time they exhibit signs of HCM, which can trigger a vulnerable, diseased heart into a fatal disruption of its rhythmic beating."

A few years ago, the International Olympic Committee recommended athletes under 35 receive screening by an electrocardiogram, which measures electrical activity of the heart, every two years beginning at age 12 or 14, according to the article.

Italy mandates young athletes have an electrocardiogram, a physical exam and a screening of family history and has done so for 25 years.

A program in Austin, Texas, had screened 3,000 high school and college athletes by 2005 and discovered six cases of HCM, according to The New York Times article. Of the 20,000 students screened by Midwest, 370 were referred to physicians for further screening and, in some cases, testing and treatment.

Indian Prairie's screening will be the largest high school screening program in Young Hearts for Life history. That's where you and I come in.

The screenings will run 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. for three days at each school. Volunteers are needed to help the professionals for either whole days or half days (7 to 11:15 a.m. or 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.).

Please e-mail Patty Smith, WVYH4L@gmail.com, to help at Waubonsie or me, NVYH4L@gmail.com, to help at Neuqua.

Current high school parents are perhaps our biggest resource, but this is also a great way for former parents to go back and say hi to the people they remember at their kids' high schools, for future high school parents to check out the people and the building they'll soon get to know well, or for any community member interested in helping out our youth.

No matter how many - or few - students are found to have a life-threatening problem that can be treated, my guess is you'll feel your time has been well-spent. I look forward to meeting you there.

• Joni Hirsch Blackman writes about Naperville. E-mail her at jonihb@aol.com.