McHenry High School looks to prevent teen cardiac problems with EKG screenings

  • Northwestern Medicine staff came to McHenry High School East Campus and West Campus Nov. 14-15 to conduct electrocardiogram screenings for students.

    Northwestern Medicine staff came to McHenry High School East Campus and West Campus Nov. 14-15 to conduct electrocardiogram screenings for students. Courtesy of McHenry High School District 156

Updated 12/17/2019 6:07 PM

Jennifer Beattie, McHenry High School physical education teacher and division chair, has been looking for a way to prevent teen cardiac emergencies ever since a student collapsed during a physical education class in 2018.

That incident left a lasting impression on PE teachers, Beattie said, even though the student recovered and is doing fine. West Campus teachers and staff are credited with saving the student, using both CPR and an automated external defibrillator.


"That was really scary for a lot of people," said Beattie, division head for McHenry High School District 156 physical education, health, and driver education.

After looking at several screening programs, district officials decided to partner with Northwestern Medicine to offer low-cost electrocardiogram screening to all McHenry High School students. For the first screening event, held Nov. 14-15, 180 students at both East Campus and West Campus received EKG testing.

Beattie said she's heard that three students were referred to doctors for further testing, as a result of the EKG screening. A pediatric cardiologist reviewed each EKG report.

"If we did something to prevent the possibility of one tragedy, it's all worth it," Beattie said.

The program, which Beattie hopes to continue, allowed students to sign up for $15 EKG screening, which was conducted mostly during PE classes. Beattie and PE teachers promoted it in the months leading up to the screening by reminding students that they won't be poked or prodded.

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EKG, also known as ECG, uses electrodes to measure the heart's electrical activity. Tests are reviewed by doctors, and families are notified of the results.

The partnership with Northwestern Medicine grew out of the existing partnership between District 156 and Northwestern for the school's Biomedical Residency capstone program. Students in the residency program assisted with the EKG screenings by conducting blood pressure readings.

Megan Weber, operations manager of wellness for Northwestern Medicine, said the EKG screening program, along with a concussion screening program, grew out of an initial grant. Northwestern conducts cardiac screenings at Woodstock High School, Johnsburg High School and McHenry County College.

Weber said she and her team were impressed with the turnout for the McHenry High School event, particularly because it was the school district's first time doing it.

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