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Simon's Fund preventing heart-related tragedies one high school athlete at a time



Sycamore (Ohio) sophomore Matthew Green discovered he suffered from Atrial Septal Defect, a hole in his heart, during a Simon's Fund screening in 2011. / Courtesy of Kelli Green

Kyle McCabe is only a freshman at Pope John Paul II (Royersford, Pa.), yet he’s already retired from football, baseball and basketball.

His obligatory decision to retire was the consequence of McCabe being diagnosed with Long QT Syndrome in October 2011 after attending a free heart screening hosted by Simon’s Fund.

Simon’s Fund, a non-profit dedicated to raising awareness about heart conditions in youth, provides free heart screenings to children and teens. It was founded by Phyllis and Darren Sudman in memory of their son, Simon, who died from Long QT Syndrome when he was just 3 months old.  

Simon’s Fund primarily operates in Greater Philadelphia but will branch out with free heart screenings in Gwinnett County near Atlanta on April 7, coinciding with the Final Four.

Two Gwinnett County basketball players — seventh-grader Jeremy Nelson and junior Adam Smith — died within the last 18 months from heart-related issues, and Simon’s Fund hopes the April event identifies potential heart ailments before they lead to more tragedies in the area. The 300 open slots for the Gwinnett County screening filled within 12 hours of opening registration.  

“I was surprised by the number,” Sudman said. “There’s a healthier turnout in communities that have lost people to sudden cardiac arrest because the threat is more real.”

McCabe is a living example of the good these screenings can do.

Long QT is a heart rhythm disorder that can cause fast and chaotic heartbeats. According to the Mayo Clinic, it may trigger a sudden fainting spell or seizure, and in some cases the heart may beat erratically for an extended period, which can lead to sudden death.

While Long QT is incurable, McCabe is able to control it by taking two daily doses of Atenolol, a medicine that helps decrease blood pressure by relaxing blood vessels and slowing the heart rate.

“We’re lucky,” said McCabe’s mom, Josie. “You start thinking, ‘What could have happened if we didn’t come to this screening?’”

Of approximately 5,479 students who have participated in a Simon’s Fund event, McCabe is one of 49 who discovered unknown and potentially fatal heart conditions.

The screening, which lasts approximately 30 minutes, involves listening to the heart along with an electrocardiogram, a test that records the heart’s electrical activity.

During a Simon’s Fund screening in November 2011, Sycamore (Ohio) sophomore Matthew Green discovered he suffered from Atrial Septal Defect, a hole in his heart. While the issue wasn’t immediately pressing, doctors suggested that Green undergo surgery before college in order to avoid severe symptoms that would likely show up years later.

Green opted to have surgery in February 2012 to seal the 14.3-millimeter hole. After a month-long recovery, he was able to resume playing center field with his baseball team. He now wears a McDavid compression shirt that has extra padding on the chest for protection.

“I’m glad I went to the screening,” Green said. “Not that it was life-threatening, but at the same time I was surprised anything could be wrong with my health.”

Simon’s Fund took its mission a step further last July when Sudman rallied for the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Prevention Act (HB1610) in Harrisburg, Pa., helping make Pennsylvania the first state to take measures that protect students against sudden cardiac arrest (SCA).

The law requires parents of student-athletes in the public school system to review and sign a form detailing warning signs and conditions of SCA. It also requires coaches to take an annual online training course about SCA. They are required to remove a player from competition if the athlete exhibits symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest. The player may not return until cleared by a licensed medical professional.

Since the bill’s passing, representatives in New Jersey, Massachusetts, Indiana, Illinois and Oklahoma have introduced similar legislation.

Sudman said the most important way one can raise awareness is simply by becoming familiar with the warning signs of SCA, getting screened and encouraging others to do the same.

“If you’re going to be good in your sport, you’re going to work hard and your heart is going to take a lot of abuse,” Sudman said. “Why not make sure it’s in good shape?”

 

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