Saving young athletes

By Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects
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If your child plays sports, chances are you've worried about concussions. But did you know the number one killer of young athletes is sudden cardiac arrest? These events are often detectable and treatable.

Carley St. George is 17 years old and has played sports for most of her young life.

"I play soccer, but I did gymnastics two years ago and I play basketball.  I pretty much have done it all," she said.

So, when Carley took a sports participation screening, she was shocked at the results.

"It's a hole in my heart between my right and left atrium," Carley said.

Carley had surgery to fix her heart defect, but the problem could have been deadly. A young athlete dies from a cardiac incident once every three days in the U.S. In contrast, concussions cause just 1.5 deaths per year.

Dr. Hank Pelto says the heart events are usually brought on by a pre-existing, detectable condition.

"In young folks, these tend to be congenital heart problems either of the plumbing of the heart, or the walls of the heart, or the electrical signals of the heart," said who practices family medicine at UW Medicine in Seattle, Washington.

Most schools in the U.S. require a standard sports exam that includes listening to the heart, checking blood pressure, and reviewing family history. However, many doctors believe adding an EKG could detect about two-thirds of the deadly heart problems that are aggravated by exercise.

"A heart screening is a critical part of any pre-participation exam,"  Pelto said.

Tori Sorenson had an undetected heart defect. She went into cardiac arrest while playing college intramural basketball.

"They had to shock me four times before they could get my heart going again," said Sorenson.

Today, she works with the Nick of Time Foundation, a non-profit that offers free heart screenings at high schools.

"We find somebody at each screening who has a cardiac problem," Tori said.

She wants every athlete to be screened so hearts and lives can be saved.

Free Athletic Screenings are hosted each August for high school and middle School athletes of Duval County at Wolfson Children's Hospital and Nemours Children's Clinic.  These screenings are arranged by the Jacksonville Sports Medicine Program and through the athletic directors of individual schools.

The 2014 screenings for Duval Coounty athletes will be Saturday, Aug, 2, at 8:30 a.m.:

  • High School & Middle School Boys:  Nemours Children's Clinic
  • High School & Middle School Girls: Wolfson Children's Hospital

The screenings offer a comprehensive health assessment through a stationed-type exam which includes pediatric cardiology.

For more information on the program, please visit or speak to the athletic director at your athlete's school.

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