Philadelphia, U.S.A. – Philadelphia’s recreation centers offer city youth a place to gather and, for many, a place to play and hone their skills. They also are places where the greatest tragedies can occur – sudden cardiac arrest. In an effort to reduce such devastating events as losing a child to sudden cardiac arrest, Youth Heart Watch from the Cardiac Center at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, an affiliate of Project ADAM, hosted a heart screening last week, in cooperation with two city recreation centers, to diagnose underlying heart conditions in young athletes.
Annually, nearly 300,000 individuals die of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) in the U.S., which equates to about four every day in Philadelphia. In SCA, the heart unexpectedly stops beating, usually from ventricular fibrillation, an uncontrolled quivering of the pumping chambers. It is estimated that SCA claims the lives of over 1,000 children and adolescents each year in the U.S., accounting for 5 to 10 percent of childhood deaths annually. Of the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) deaths, at least 10 to 15 percent are related to a silent electrical cardiac condition, not previously diagnosed. For up to half of young people affected with this heart condition, an SCA is their first presentation of a problem.
“The goal of Youth Heart Watch is to provide screening to all of the children who use the city’s recreation centers, who may not have had prior access to this type of comprehensive cardiac evaluation to prevent further tragedies from occurring,” said Victoria Vetter, M.D., MPH, medical director of Youth Heart Watch at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “Identifying at-risk young athletes is the first step to prevention.”
Most heart conditions that cause SCA are not found through an examination of a child’s medical history or through a physical examination alone, which represents the current practice for sports clearance. They are much more likely to be detected when an electrocardiogram (ECG) and echocardiogram (ECHO) are added to the history and physical exam. Each year, 25 million schoolchildren who do not participate in school sports receive no evaluation for SCA. This includes many young people who use recreation centers for activities and sports.
Hank Gathers, a Philadelphia basketball legend, was considered a number-one NBA pick when he collapsed and died during a college game in 1990. In 2006, Danny Rumph was home from Western Kentucky University where he was a star basketball player. While playing basketball at the Mallery Recreation Center (now named the Daniel E. Rumph II Recreation Center), he suffered a fatal SCA. Prior identification and treatment of these young men may have prevented their tragic deaths.
“In my career as a professional athlete I have personally witnessed the death of two athletes to SCA while playing basketball. One of them was my closest friend, Hank Gathers. It is only appropriate that I be at the Hank Gathers Center for Youth Heart Watch’s screening to honor my friend and educate youth, families and athletes about Sudden Cardiac Arrest and its prevention,” said Bo Kimble, former NBA player and founder of the 44 for Life Foundation “It’s up to us to protect young hearts and for this reason 44 for Life was developed. Our goal is to save lives one beat at a time by raising awareness and reaction time to Sudden Cardiac Arrest. Today’s screening program is a huge step in accomplishing this goal.”
In Philadelphia, the only children who currently have any type of screening that could identify SCA-related conditions are those who are high school and occasionally, middle school athletes who undergo pre-participation evaluations to determine eligibility for sports.
“The recreation centers are a vital component of the social landscape for the city’s youth,” said Susan Slawson, commissioner of Recreation for the City of Philadelphia. “Offering this important screening to children who use the centers can help identify anyone that is at risk and help prevent a sudden cardiac arrest, which is a tragedy that affects the entire community.”
The use of an automated external defibrillator (AED) by bystanders results in 41 to 74 percent survival when SCA is recognized, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) started and an AED is applied within 3 to 5 minutes of collapse. In Seattle, 61 percent of SCA cases receiving bystander CPR (CPR by a community member who witnesses the arrest), the survival rate is 49 percent, higher than the current rate of 5.4 percent in Pennsylvania.
“In addition to screening healthy children and adolescents who may have underlying cardiac anomalies that could put them at risk of cardiac arrest, we hope to train a new generation on the importance of knowing how to locate and use an AED and perform CPR in an emergency so they are willing and able to help save a life if the need arises,” added Dr. Vetter.
Youth Heart Watch (YHW) at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia helps schools and other facilities develop a program to recognize the signs of a SCA and create an emergency response plan. YHW has served over 450 schools and trained scores of individuals in CPR and the use of AEDs. The program has helped secure AEDs for all the Philadelphia School District high schools and middle schools over the past 9 years.
An education grant from Pfizer helped to fund this screening event. The event is also supported by the 44 for Life Foundation and the Daniel E. Rumph II Foundation.