Why young athletes should get their hearts tested

Sabrina Stafford discovered she had Long QT syndrome after receiving an EKG at the age of 14. She now has a defibrillator implanted (Julie Karam, KXAN).

AUSTIN (KXAN) — In the weeks leading up to the start of school, high school athletes return to the field to get ready for their season. Monday, Westlake’s football team will hit the practice field at 6:15 a.m. in an effort to avoid the heat of the day.

No matter what sport a teens plays, this weekend cardiologists are encouraging parents to have their teenager tested for genetic heart conditions that can only be discovered through an EKG and echocardiogram. Doctors say unfortunately those who don’t get tested often only discover a problem once they suffer sudden cardiac arrest.

“Parents ought to be saying to their pediatrician how do I get screened for this? Because it would start with a pediatrician or family practitioners administering that simple questionnaire that’s available online. If anything is positive then refer onto a cardiologist,” says Dr. David Kessler, Cardiac Electrophysiologist.

On Saturday, the Heart Hospital of Austin will conduct three screenings. A questionnaire to determine if there is a history of a cardiac condition, an EKG, and an echocardiogram to detect a genetic heart condition like hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and Long QT syndrome. All of the screenings will be free.

“When we find it, it’s life changing,” Kessler says. “99.9 percent of the students who come through will have normal findings. But when we do find it, it doesn’t mean they can’t play recreational activities. It doesn’t mean they can’t run or participate in physical education. It just means the high intensity activities like football, basketball — why not remove them from that at an early stage and let them focus on something else.”

Sabrina Stafford was 14 when doctors discovered she had Long QT syndrome after fainting at school. The all-around athlete ended up having to shift from playing multiple sports to managing the sports teams to stay part of the team.

“Now I have an implanted defibrillator which has shocked me over 10 times so I’m alive because I had an EKG and the doctors to help me,” Stafford says.

Parents interested in having their teenager receive a free heart screening must make an appointment by calling 512-478-3627, or visit www.StDavids.com/youngheart. The free heart screenings will take place Saturday at the Heart Hospital of Austin from 8 a.m. to noon.

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