Student Athletes at Upper Dublin, PA, High School Undergo Heart Screening

All day Sunday, the cafeteria at Upper Dublin High School was filled with student athletes of every stripe.

Soccer or football, gymnastics or field hockey - it didn't matter the sport. All were drawn for the same reason: to make sure their hearts were strong enough for athletics.

The free public screening was sponsored by Simon's Fund, a local nonprofit that raises awareness of sudden cardiac arrest.

Exercise can reveal underlying heart defects in teens and younger children that can lead to symptoms such as dizziness, fainting, chest pain, heart palpitations, and death.

At Upper Dublin, more than 300 students from ages 10 to 19 were screened by a team from Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Each athlete was given an electrocardiogram that was reviewed immediately by hospital pediatric cardiologist Victoria Vetter. If Vetter saw anything abnormal in the results, she would refer the child for additional testing.

Vetter said that in the last week, the hospital had treated three student athletes - in field hockey, basketball, and cross-country - for sudden cardiac arrest.

At the Upper Dublin screening, among the students to come in for testing were Shane Vereb, 14, and brother Michael, 15. Each attends Pope John Paul II High School in Royersford and plays soccer, basketball, and baseball.

Their father has more than a passing interest in screening: State Rep. Michael Vereb (R., Montgomery) co-sponsored legislation to set standards for preventing sudden cardiac arrest and death in student athletes. Gov. Corbett signed the bill last June, making Pennsylvania the first state with such a law protecting student athletes.

Vereb said he wanted to put his money where his mouth was. "How can I expect other parents to be aware and screen if I don't get my own kids screened?" he asked.

Under the new law, schools and organizers of sports are encouraged to hold informational meetings at the start of playing seasons to discuss warning signs and symptoms. Parents and students, meanwhile, must sign statements that they are aware of the issue and health risks.

Websites for Pennsylvania's departments of education and health also have posted guidelines and information.

Vereb said the law will require "self-policing." It stipulates that if an athlete exhibits symptoms, the student cannot return to a sport until approved by a physician or nurse practitioner.

"If someone faints or loses consciousness," Vereb said, "just giving Gatorade is not an alternative anymore."

SOURCE: Philly.com

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