Cardiac concerns: saving kids from sudden death

Sudden cardiac arrest claims the lives of hundreds of children each year, and yet standard sports physicals miss 96% of those at risk.

Dave and Kim Waltman remember their daughter Taylor as just a normal kid.

But just 10 days before her 13th birthday, she collapsed during soccer practice.

"I remember, she gave me a look, like I don't want to run this lap," said Waltman.

While she never showed signs of a heart problem, Taylor died of sudden cardiac arrest.

"That night, we all had to go up to the hospital. We were there all night. Worst night of our lives," said Waltman.

Like Taylor, not all kids at risk will have obvious symptoms, but Dr. Jane Crosson says there are things to watch out for, like family history.

"So we always say, any sudden death under 35, have the immediate relatives screened for these genetic conditions that can cause sudden death," said Dr. Crosson, Director of Pediatric Electrophysiology at Johns Hopkins Children's Center.

She says even unexplained car accidents or drownings, where a family member may have passed out before they passed away, need to be looked at.

"In people that died swimming, 28% or 29% had a genetic abnormality that wasn't previously recognized," said Crosson.

Other red flags include: children complaining of chest pain while exercising or playing, and fainting or passing out during an activity. While EKGs can detect about 60 % of those at risk, Dr Crosson says schools need to have defibrillators to help the other 40% of kids who go undetected.

After the Waltman's had their family tested, they learned, like Taylor, their younger daughter Shelby had a heart problem too.

"Of course we worry about her every day,” said Waltman. “But we just have faith in them that they can treat it."

And faith their story could save children from what killed their daughter.

If detected and treated early, kids with heart conditions can go on to lead normal lives.

When it comes to Automatic Extended Defibrillators, or AEDs every second counts. Survival rates after a cardiac event can drop 10% for every minute without an AED.

BACKGROUND:

WHAT CAUSES SUDDEN CARDIAC ARREST: Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is a condition in which the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating. If this happens, blood stops flowing to the brain and other vital organs. SCA is not the same as a heart attack. A heart attack occurs if blood flow to part of the heart muscle is blocked. During a heart attack, the heart usually doesn't suddenly stop beating. SCA, however, may happen after or during recovery from a heart attack. People who have heart disease are at higher risk for SCA. However, SCA can happen in people who appear healthy and have no known heart disease or other risk factors for SCA. Certain diseases and conditions can cause the electrical problems that lead to SCA. Examples include coronary heart disease (CHD), also called coronary artery disease; severe physical stress; certain inherited disorders; and structural changes in the heart. (Source: nhlbi.nih.gov)
SIGNS OF SCA: Usually, the first sign of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is loss of consciousness (fainting). At the same time, no heartbeat (or pulse) can be felt. Some people may have a racing heartbeat or feel dizzy or light-headed just before they faint. Within an hour before SCA, some people have chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea (feeling sick to the stomach), or vomiting. (Source: nhlbi.nih.gov)
PREVENTION AND TREATMENT: If you've already had SCA, you're at high risk of having it again. Research shows that an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) reduces the chances of dying from a second SCA. If you're at high risk for a first SCA, your doctor may prescribe a type of medicine called a beta blocker to help lower your risk for SCA. Other treatments for CHD, such as angioplasty or coronary artery bypass grafting, also may lower your risk for SCA. If you have no known risk factors for SCA, CHD seems to be the cause of most SCAs in adults. CHD also is a major risk factor for angina (chest pain or discomfort) and heart attack, and it contributes to other heart problems. Following a healthy lifestyle with diet and exercise can help you lower your risk for CHD, SCA, and other heart problems. Also, try quitting smoking, losing weight, and treating other issues like high blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes. To treat SCA, defibrillation is needed within minutes to keep them alive. You should give cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to a person having SCA until defibrillation can be done. People who are at risk for SCA may want to consider having an AED at home. If you survive SCA, you'll likely be admitted to a hospital for ongoing care and treatment. In the hospital, your medical team will closely watch your heart. They may give you medicines to try to reduce the risk of another SCA. (Source: nhlbi.nih.gov)

For More Information, Contact:
Ekaterina Pesheva
Johns Hopkins Children's Center
(410) 502-9433 cell
epeshev1@jhmi.edu.


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