Father pushes for UIL heart testing after son’s death

AUSTIN (KXAN) — When you are 6’9 and weigh 290 pounds, “big” is a way of life.

As a high school senior just weeks from graduating at Crosby High School, Cody Stephens sat in front of his television watching the 2012 NFL Draft and told his father one day he would be the one getting his name called at the draft.

“I said ‘Cody, don’t worry about that. Go to Tarleton and try to start as a freshman and worry about your degree,” said his father Scott.

But the huge offensive lineman with a scholarship to Tarleton State University couldn’t help it. He played big and thought big.

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He replied to his father’s advice with some advice of his own and the words that now define both of their lives.

“Go big or go home, Dad.”

Ten days later, Cody Stephens sat down in a recliner to take a nap and never woke up.

“Every morning, I look at that chair where he was sitting when he died and it is empty and I hear his words. Go big or go home,” said Scott Stephens.

Cody died from Sudden Cardiac Death. His father said there were no obvious signs that would suggest anything was wrong.

But in the two years since Cody’s death, father has taken son’s advice.

The Cody Stephens Go Big or Go Home Memorial Foundation was created to raise money and help provide heart screenings to Texas high school athletes.

Scott Stephens said the foundation has raised $300,000, provided 30,000 screenings, and that those screenings ultimately led to nine potentially life-saving heart surgeries.

That is big, but not ‘Cody Stephens big.’

“I need help from big brother and that is why I am here today,” said Scott in front of a packed room at the State Capital building as he testified before the Sunset Advisory Commission.

The commission was discussing potential changes within the University Interscholastic League, especially pertaining to athlete health.

Stephens’ testimony asked the commission to consider making an electrocardiogram required for all student-athletes. He believes that if his foundation has shown such testing is a cheap and easy way to detect heart problems and potentially save lives.

“I am loud and I can get around, but I need you to put this on the agenda and get something done about it,” said Stephens during testimony.

Last legislative session, Stephens worked with Representatives Sylvester Turner and Wayne Smith to introduce House Bill 1319 which would require the UIL to make ECG screenings a part of their standard physical assessment. But the bill stalled in committee amid debate about the usefulness of ECG testing and the necessary infrastructure to make such widespread testing possible.

But Stephens said the Foundation and other similar non-profits have worked with school districts and hospitals to provide cheap testing ($15 a screening) and thinks state support could go a long way in helping save lives.

“Current physicals don’t catch heart abnormalities, ECG’s do.”

With another legislative session looming in 2015, Stephens again plans to push legislation forward with the help of Turner and Smith.

Just last week, Baylor basketball player and NBA prospect Isaiah Austin announced he was ending his playing career due to a genetic heart disorder. Doctors made the discovery during a pre-draft physical evaluation.

Stephens said had Cody received an ECG screening, his football playing days would likely have been over, but his life would have been saved.

“He would be fishing, he would be hunting, he would be getting his degree, and he would be getting ready for his career. We would take that.”

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