Lower Cape May hopes testing athletes’ hearts helps save lives
CAPE MAY — Last school year, there were five heart-related episodes for athletes at Lower Cape May Regional High School.
This school year, Lower Cape May Regional School District athletic trainer Frank Zilinek’s goal is to get that number to zero.
On July 30, Lower Cape May partnered with Wimbledon Athletics based in Boca Raton, Florida, to provide a professionally administered EKG, echocardiography and vascular ultrasound testing made available for the students in the high school gym.
Registration for the event was voluntary with billing going through the student’s parents’ private health insurance. The purpose of the tests was to reduce the risk of sudden cardiac death and to identify underlying vascular conditions, such as blood clots.
“I think it’s important that we just check to make sure their overall health is good,” said Amy Souder, of Cape May, who was one of many parents who had their children tested that day. “This was a nice thing that they did and made it easy for us parents to get to.”
Lower Cape May Regional – Saving the lives of student athletes through cardiovascular testing.
Twenty fall athletes at Lower signed up for the testing. Zilinek said voluntary tests will be done before the winter and spring seasons as well. Students who were tested July 30 won’t have to sign up again.
Last fall, 11 high school football players died from a range of causes in the United States, two being confirmed as heart-related incidents. But it was the five heart-related episodes that happened to two Lower cheerleaders and three track athletes that had Zilinek most concerned.
“This, I think, is going to be the next step where schools are going to be requiring this or states will be requiring this five or 10 years down the road,” Zilinek said. “I think this will be the norm of what we’re doing here today.”
One of those five incidents stood out to Zilinek.
Before Jan. 7, Jackie Holland never would have thought to have her daughter, Allyson, checked for any abnormalities of her heart.
Allyson was at practice with the rest of the cheerleading team earlier in the day. Her heart had an erratic rhythm but it settled itself, and Allyson didn’t think anything more of it.
During a basketball game that evening, her heart began to race, and it wouldn’t stop. She went to Zilinek, who called Jackie and told her she needed to go straight to the doctor.
“I took her to Cape Urgent Care and had a friend, Dr. (Kenneth E.) Cramer, who was able to get her heart to slow down,” Jackie Holland said. “Her heart rate was over 206 beats per minute for 45 minutes.
“She was rushed to the hospital where they did another EKG and saw what it was.”
Allyson Holland was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome, where an extra electrical pathway between her heart’s upper chambers and lower chambers caused a rapid heartbeat. They inserted a heart catheter and she was able to resume cheerleading in the spring.
“I’m a lucky parent that my daughter is OK,” Jackie Holland said.
What caught Jackie Holland’s eye, however, was how easy the doctors said it could be detected with just a simple EKG.
She began to wonder if this were something that could be made mandatory for all athletics to go along with the typical physical kids must go through at the start of their sport’s season.
“I just think every parent needs to just take a safety precaution and have their kids checked out,” Holland said. “It’s noninvasive and takes little time and could catch something that could kill them later on in life.”
Zilinek reacted quickly and did his homework. He found Wimbledon Athletics, which tests several colleges each year. Zilinek said Lower is one of the first schools to utilize heart testing.
On July 30, Lower hosted the session.The first two students at the gym were junior soccer player and lacrosse player Chase Mendyk and sophomore tennis and track athlete Ella Souder.
Neither knew what to expect.
“I kind of expected to have a bunch of stuff on my chest, and it would be over quick,” said Mendyk, 16, of North Cape May. “They had me in there for a while, testing on my legs and thighs. It was pretty cool.”
A pair of technicians from Wimbledon, Sade McLeod, of Queens, New York, and Lee Anne Schmidt, of Belleville, Essex County, had set up stations to run the three tests on the students.
“It was interesting to see the pictures and what they were checking,” said Souder, 15. “I think it’s really good, because it’s good to know what’s going on if your heart does have issues.”
Neither Souder nor Mendyk had ever had heart issues growing up while playing sports. They had never thought to have their heart looked at either.
“I learned how serious it was,” Mendyk said. “You hear about kids having cardiac arrests, and it’s serious.
“I think everyone should take advantage of this, just something to take as a precaution. You never know if it’s going to happen to you.”
Original Story by JRusso@pressofac.com, Twitter @ACPress_Russo