A simple and effective test to screen for medical conditions that can cause sudden cardiac death in young adults will be offered to all Maine West High School students on Feb. 27-28.
The screening program, Young Hearts for Life (YH4L), was launched in 2006, by Dr. Joseph Marek, an Advocate Medical Group cardiologist, who had been seeking a way to reduce the number of sudden heart-related deaths among adolescents and young adults. Dr. Marek's idea has caught on: Young Hearts for Life, the nation's largest operation of its kind, this month hit the 100,000 milestone in number of young people it has tested at more than 60 Chicago-area high schools.
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At Maine West, all students who receive parental permission will undergo a painless electrocardiogram. Permission forms will be distributed to students, but parents also may complete the form online at West's website: west.maine207.org.
Follow-up testing will be recommended to students whose ECG results warrant a closer evaluation. All results will be private to the student's family. While ECG's cannot identify every cause of sudden cardiac death, Dr. Marek says that about 60 percent of the conditions responsible are identifiable by ECG.
Hence, the importance of Young Hearts for Life. In addition, the Des Plaines community will be vital to the program's success. Volunteers, primarily parents, will be trained on Feb. 26 to conduct the ECG's, which makes the screening process affordable as well as effective. Because they will work directly with students, volunteers will undergo simple background checks that are standard protocol for school visitors.
Dr. Marek offers assurance for prospective volunteers who might find the idea of giving an ECG daunting.
"I learned how to do an ECG in about 15 minutes," he said. "If parents can figure out how to use a cellphone, they certainly can learn an ECG in our concise 90-minutes of training."
The actual screening process is paid for by Advocate Lutheran General Hospital and Advocate Children's Hospital. But Maine West welcomes community donations to help cover ancillary costs such as providing supplies and lunch for the volunteers and setting up the staging area.
Anyone interested in contributing may contact Dr. Rose Garlasco, Assistant Principal for Students, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For young people in whom a problematic condition is found, the response can range from medication to procedures conducted with a catheter to removing the adolescent from competitive sports.
"Really important things can be done for them to reduce the risk of death," Dr. Marek said, "but you can't apply those measures until the conditions are identified. Most young people who have these conditions do not have any symptoms."
Details, parental consent and volunteer registration information may be found on Maine West's website. Additional information about the program may be found at www.yh4l.org.