Keeping children’s hearts healthy

boy getting a Beaumont Student Heart Check

Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) is not something many parents think about in the long list of worries when it comes to their teenager’s health. We make sure our kids have their required sports physicals, and we pay attention to the required concussion education each school year. What parents don’t know is that SCA is the leading cause of death in student athletes. Did you know we lose one student athlete every three days in our country to SCA? Here are some things we can do as parents to make sure our children’s hearts are healthy and that their schools are prepared should a cardiac event happen on campus.

Learn CPR and how to use an AED

CPR has been around since the early 1900s and has helped save millions of lives. In 2008 the American Heart Association released a statement recommending bystanders who witness a sudden collapse should first call 911, ask someone to get an AED (automated external defibrillator) if available, and start high-quality chest compressions pushing hard and fast in the middle of the chest at 100 to 120 compressions per minute.

High-quality chest compressions replaced the recommendation to do mouth-to-mouth to break the hesitation people felt about breathing for a stranger. AEDs are becoming more common in the community. They don’t require extensive training to operate, and once turned on, it walks you through the steps to use it with an automated voice. Effective CPR provided by a bystander in the first few minutes of cardiac arrest can increase the chances of survival by two or three times.

Make sure your child’s school is heart safe         

Michigan law states that each school must have a Cardiac Emergency Response Plan and have staff identified to respond to a cardiac emergency. Although schools are not required by law to have an AED, or enough AEDs for their campus, there are many charity groups who provide AEDs to schools free of charge. Michigan also has a designation for schools that have taken additional steps to ensure they are prepared to respond appropriately to a sudden cardiac emergency on campus called the HEARTsafe School Award. This award recognizes schools that have a trained cardiac emergency response team, clearly identified AEDs, a certain percentage of staff and coaches who are certified in CPR, and requires that the school conduct an AED drill each year to practice the response time. If your school is not a HEARTsafe school and they are interested in becoming one, we can help.

Sports physicals and symptoms are important to pay attention to

Have you ever cruised through filling out that sports physical form, not really reading the health-related questions regarding family history and previous symptoms your child might have? It is important for your child’s physician to have all the information requested to evaluate your child’s health for the upcoming sports season. Let your physician know about any close family members with heart conditions or any who have died unexpectedly at a young age. Take symptoms your teen reports during sports seriously such as unusual shortness of breath, heart palpitations, chest pain, fainting/collapsing, or seizures during or after exercise. With all the information, your physician can refer for cardiac testing if indicated.

Bring your teen to a Beaumont Student Heart Check

The Beaumont Student Heart Check program offers a free community screening program at local high schools across metro Detroit four to six times a year, and a regular clinic screening program at the Ernst Cardiovascular Center in Royal Oak for a small fee of $25. This program is open to any student between 13 and 18 years old. Students receive a blood pressure check, cardiac history and physical, EKG, and a “quick look” echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) with Beaumont staff and cardiologists. Students also receive education on hands-only CPR and how to use an AED.

Since 2007 the program has screened 17,492 student athletes. Of those, 1,797 could continue sports but were recommended to see their physician, 207 were recommended to stop sports until they followed up with a cardiologist for several congenital heart conditions and abnormalities, and nine were found to have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the leading cause of death for young athletes. To find an upcoming SHC screening, visit

– Jennifer Shea, Student Heart Check Manager, Beaumont Heart & Vascular Services

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