By Ashley MackinIn collaboration with The Bishop’s School, free heart screenings will be offered for area youth (ages 12-19) from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 28 at La Jolla High School, 750 Nautilus St.
The screening is non-invasive and will look for anomalies in heart rhythm. Although rare, anomalies can contribute to the risk of sudden cardiac arrest in teens and screening for them is not part of routine checkups or sports physicals.
“The reason we like to focus on teenagers is if this anomaly is going to happen, it likely happens during the teen years,” said Alexa Page, a La Jolla High parent and surgeon. “Adults should not be screened because when you enter adult years, electrocardiograms (EKGs) become part of a routine examination.” EKGs detect irregularities in how the heart beats.
Although Page recommends all teens be screened — and noted the event is open to all students, not just those who attend La Jolla High or The Bishop’s School — checking young athletes is of critical importance.
Maureen Legg, executive director of the Eric Paredes Save A Life Foundation, which provides the screenings, said typical warning signs of heart problems in teen athletes are often hard to spot, if present at all, as they can be miscredited to overexertion or exercise.
Common warning signs, Legg explained, include unexplained fainting (which during summer months, many think is caused by the heat), lightheadedness, chest pains, shortness of breath, unusual heart palpitations and irregular heartbeat.
“We live in an uber-competitive society and kids are taught to push through the pain and excel,” Legg said. “They might not realize the chest pain felt when working out is not because they are out of shape but because they have a heart condition.”
To screen a teenThe screening itself is two-fold, with possible follow-up based on the results. The first part is a health and family history, including whether the person has exhibited any warning signs and at what state (resting, walking or exercising). The health history also looks at whether the person consumes potentially harmful substances such as performance enhancing drugs or supplements, and energy drinks.
From there, each student receives an EKG to measure the electrical beat of his or her heart. “If the EKG looks good, they are done,” Page said. The results of the EKGs are mailed home with the family for their records. Participants are asked to bring a self- addressed stamped envelope.
Based on what screeners see in the EKG, about 30 percent of participants also receive an echocardiogram, “which is basically an ultrasound of your heart,” Legg said. If the echocardiogram detects something irregular, screeners suggest follow-up with the family physician.
Abnormalities can stem from different conditions and would require different corrective action, which Legg said, “For most kids, is relatively simple and they can go on doing their thing and playing sports.”
She added, “At each screening we’ve done, we have found an abnormality the kid did not know about or a risk-factor their parents did not know about. We would hope if they don’t get screened with us, parents get their kids screened somewhere.”
First-hand experienceJuliann Ford, a Bishop’s School parent, had both of her sons checked through the Eric Paredes Save A Life Foundation when a screening was conducted at Cathedral Catholic High School.
“There was no medical reason to have the screening done — just the knowledge of other teens dying suddenly of cardiac arrest,” she said. “Both my boys are athletes and I felt that I should know if they had any heart abnormality. This was totally a preventative measure for our family.”
The results for both her sons showed no abnormalities.
“As a parent, I am relieved my sons passed their EKGs, my fear is that one of their friends who is unknowingly at-risk, won’t know to get screened, is afraid to get screened, or is too busy to get screened,” she said.
Screenings take less than 30 minutes, though wait times vary. Families can register and download the family history form at