August means back to school for most high schoolers, and for many student athletes, sports have already begun, whether it be camps, clubs, or practices. With that comes the risk of sudden cardiac arrest due to unsuspected heart abnormalities. Studies indicate the risk for SCA is 3 times higher in competitive athletes than non-athletes.

In July, nine high school student athletes were in the news following their sudden deaths, with cardiac arrest attributed to or possibly attributed to seven of these students.

South Grand Prairie High School in Texas lost John Lee to cardiac arrest while the teen was at basketball camp in Pennsylvania. Lee’s cardiac arrest was caused by undiagnosed cardiomyopathy, a heart condition that can be detected through cardiac testing. His basketball coach said, “He was a big healthy strong kid that worked very hard so we never thought anything like this would happen.”

In Gwinnett County, Georgia, Michael Jones was at soccer club practice when he died from sudden cardiac arrest from an “abnormal artery”. Congenital coronary artery anomalies are the #2 cause of sudden cardiac death among young athletes. This heart abnormality cannot be detected on an EKG, but can with an echocardiogram. Jones’s soccer coach said, “He was in tremendous shape and for this to happen the way, cardiac arrest, my first thought, something was missed in some sort of exam or something.” 

Michigan student Everson Guild collapsed in the weight room during pre-season football conditioning. Though staff performed CPR and used an AED, the incoming freshman wasn’t able to be revived. Guild was the type of teenager who could interact with the quietest person in the room and the loudest and make each feel important just by how he engaged them, according to Grand Ledge High School’s varsity football coach.

Teen cheer tumbler Christopher Duke from Crossett, Arkansas died in his sleep, possibly from an unknown heart condition. At an event to honor the memory of the young athlete, an attendee described Duke as a “light, a force, and an angel.” Chris and his team members were preparing for an all star competition at the time of his death.

Little information is known about the death of Mississippi high school football player Ty Rayford, who died suddenly just hours after finishing football practice. Rayford’s friends and family describe him as a gentle giant. His death came as a shock to those who knew him. He was just three weeks away from playing the first game of the season.

According to friends, Dorrell McFarland went into cardiac arrest and later died. He was a rising junior and star player for the Cheraw High School football team. McFarland had quickly become the heart of the team. His humor and electric energy became the spark to get his teammates to push through, even when their backs were against the wall, according to his teammates.

Sudden cardiac arrest doesn’t discriminate.

It can happen to anyone, but athletes of high school and college age are especially susceptible. Whether SCA happens during practice, at a sporting event, or at home during inactivity, a young life can be lost in a matter of minutes. CPR and AEDs do save lives, but not always. Primary prevention should be schools’ priority. Identifying heart conditions that can cause sudden cardiac arrest before an event happens is the best way to help prevent tragedy. Knowledge of a condition gives students and their families the ability to protect themselves by altering routines or undergoing procedures to address an issue.

The school year is starting. It’s time to make sure your student athletes are protected when it comes to their hearts. Sign up your school for testing today!

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