Youth heart screening program gives 100,000th EKG
Anthony Essary was in and out in a matter of minutes.
The heart screening was simple and, at least on this day, inexpensive. The potential value to his health, though, was priceless.
"It's quick and painless," said Essary, a senior at Montini Catholic High School in Lombard. "The worst part is pulling the stickers off."
Amid fanfare of confetti and bell ringing, Essary on Friday became the 100,000th youth to receive a free Electrocardiogram, or EKG, as part of the Young Hearts for Life Program. Essary was one of close to 400 Montini students to get an EKG.
The program began in 2006 under the guidance of Dr. Joseph C. Marek, a cardiologist at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove. It is designed to identify high school and college students at risk for sudden cardiac death, which occurs when the electrical system to the heart malfunctions and suddenly becomes very irregular.
Since its inception, Young Hearts for Life, a charitable program under the umbrella of the Advocate Charitable Foundation, has done EKGs at more than 50 area high schools.
Its value is immeasurable, organizers said Friday.
More than 7,000 young people younger than 18 die from undetected heart conditions each year. Marek said when examining the prevalence of conditions, three kids in 1,000 are at risk.
"I got tired of seeing things in the news of these kids having sudden cardiac death," Marek said. "As a parent, I thought that was unimaginable. As a cardiologist, I thought there was something we should be able to do about it."
The procedure takes a matter of minutes. Trained volunteers put electrodes, or "stickies," on a person's chest and arms, and attach them to wires leading to an EKG machine. The machine records the electrical activity of the heart and within minutes has results for a cardiologist to interpret. Individuals that show up with abnormalities are sent for further evaluation, which could lead to treatment as simple as medicine or potentially surgery.
Montini Principal Maryann O'Neill said this is the third or fourth time Young Hearts for Life has come to the Lombard school. In a previous visit, two families' children tested positive for a heart defect, though O'Neill stressed that results were kept confidential.
"This is an incredible program that the doctor began and schools have bought into," O'Neill said. "It saves lives."
While sudden cardiac death in adults can often be traced to lifestyle choices, in youths it is predominantly linked to genetics. Marek recommends that kids get EKG screenings starting at ages 12 to 14 and all the way up to their mid-20s, particularly if they are athletically involved.
The problem is, EKGs at a physician's office or hospital can be quite costly. Insurance does not cover screening tests. EKGs are not included in routine athletic physicals, unlike Italy and other European countries that screen teen and adult athletes before they play sports.
John and Laura Regalado of Burbank, among the 50 or so volunteers Friday at Montini, lost their 15-year-old son Robert to sudden cardiac death in 2009. A three-sport athlete, Robert had passed three physicals within the year of his death. Tests after his passing showed an enlarged heart.
The Regalados started volunteering with Young Hearts for Life in 2010, and screened 1,500 kids in one day at Reavis High School the first year.
"No family should go through what we went through," John Regalado said. "They don't need to. Let's save lives. I don't want my son's life to be in vain."
Friday was the second time Essary has had an EKG done at Montini. An athlete who plays lacrosse and soccer, Essary previously participated in the program as a freshman. He recommends others follow his lead.
"It (sudden cardiac death), is something that could trigger on anyone," Essary said. "This was a good experience, definitely something good to do for personal health. Everyone should do it if possible."