SAN MATEO, Calif. – Sudden death in young people is rare, but according to the Mayo Clinic, cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death in student athletes, mostly due to heart abnormalities.
7,000-10,000 school-aged children die each year nationwide from sudden cardiac arrest.
“This is a problem within the teens with either their electrical or mechanical systems that would not be found otherwise without screening. So sometimes the first symptom is death,” said Peninsula Health Care District Director Helen Galligan, RN.
On Sunday, Peninsula Health Care District partnered with the Heart Project to offer free heart screenings at The College of San Mateo for youth ages 12 to 25.
Its goal was to screen 300 young people.
“You try to protect them from as much as you can, but there are a million things that could get to them,” said Kevin Philbin, who brought his three children to the screening.
“So if there’s a way to find out if a heart issue they may have, you want to find out.”
Participants get a general health screening and blood pressure test, but the test they can’t get anywhere else is the EKG, followed by an echocardiogram that looks at the musculature of the heart and the function of the heart.
“We do really target athletes, because there is a one percent incident rate of finding a heart defect that could lead to sudden cardiac death,” said Ashley McDevitt, community engagement director for Peninsula Health Care District.
The EKG test would be too costly for the school districts to invest and offer on their own.
“For the school to do this, it wouldn’t necessarily just be the screening. It’s the equipment, the training, the expertise to read the EKG and to do the follow up,” said McDevitt.
For most individuals without a known family history, they cannot get an EKG test at their doctor’s office of have their insurance cover it.
In addition to the heart screenings, the event offered CPR training.
“This is how you’re going to save somebody that may have what they’re screening for today- that electrical disturbance,” said Galligan.
“What you need to do is reset it with a defibrillator and that would save their life because nothing else would.”