It’s a basic idea, and an important one: During the preseason physicals that every high school athlete undergoes, include an electrocardiogram. The test, which is inexpensive and takes roughly five painless minutes, could save lives.
So why isn’t it standard procedure? Every year high school athletes collapse, and some die, because of undetected heart conditions.
That’s the focus of the Asbury Park Press’ latest Create An Athlete podcast (listen here).
“It’s an unfortunate thing, and although there are organizations that say it doesn’t happen that often, when it happens to your child or when it happens to someone you read about in the newspaper, it’s devastating,” said Pat Trott, whose daughter Nicole died of one such condition in 2011. “If that can be prevented by a test that costs probably no more than $75 and takes you one step closer to determining whether they have any symptoms. That would definitely be worthwhile.”
Pat and her husband, Dave Trott, Old Bridge residents, co-founded the nonprofit Nicole’s Heart Foundation to raise awareness about the issue and offer screenings. The next free screening is Saturday.
This is the foundation’s sixth such screening. More than 500 students have attended all told; 200 took part in one at Christian Brothers Academy last fall. Pat Trott said “if something doesn’t look right,” a teen will be asked to follow-up at a cardiologist’s office for an echocardiogram, which is an ultrasound of the heart. Each screening yields a “maybe nine or 10” candidates for follow-ups, Trott said.
“It’s one step closer to detecting a possible problem,” she said.
There was much less awareness of such things in 2011, when Nicole Trott died of sudden cardiac arrest shortly after graduating from St. John Vianney. She was a cheerleader and pole vaulter at the school and competed in club gymnastics. An autopsy revealed Nicole Trott was born with ALCAPA, a rare heart defect. Like many young people with congenital heart conditions, she never suffered symptoms.
“The bottom line is, this is all preventable,” Dave Trott said. “If the screening picks up a problem, there are remediations. There are ways we can prevent the disease from killing.”
Awareness has risen over the past few years, spurred by tragedies and near-misses like that of Donovan Catholic High School wrestler Brandon Gonzalez last year — Gonzalez had to be revived when his heart stopped during a match. Still, despite the best efforts of the Trotts and other advocates, cardiac screening has not been incorporated into standard preseason physicals.
How many lives has Nicole’s Heart saved with its screenings?
“Luckily we don’t know that,” Pat Trott said, “because these kids have been screened and things have been caught.”