Doctors Urge Heart Screenings for Kids

The first sign anything was wrong with Cody Sherrell was his collapse on the La Center Middle School basketball court.

Doctors say the 14-year-old had a heart attack that may have been caused by cardiac arrhythmia. He remained in critical condition at Randall Children Hospital at Legacy Emanuel Wednesday night, with doctors keeping him medicated and in cooling blankets in order to prevent any brain damage.

Sherrell had no symptoms, which is common among young athletes who have serious cardiac issues, said his doctor, pediatric critical care specialist Mark Banks.

At a press conference held Tuesday, Banks urged parents to have their children screened for heart problems.

“As random and as unpredictable as it is, you want to make it even less so,” said Banks.

While schools require physical exams for student athletes, they do not include heart screenings like electrocardiograms, known as ECGs or EKGs.

“I’m biased as a cardiologist and as a parent. My feeling is that in general, screening with an electrocardiogram can uncover some abnormalities like hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is the most common cause of sudden death in young athletes,” said James Beckerman, a cardiologist at Providence St. Vincent’s Heart Clinic.

Beckerman acknowledged there is some controversy surrounding heart screenings for young athletes, which sometimes result in false positives.

The American Heart Association does not currently recommend routine screenings for all athletes.

“I think there’s enough data to support it and I understand the controversies, but I also as a parent want to do what I believe would be best for my kids too,” said Beckerman.  “I appreciate the controversy, but anything we can do to prevent tragedies like this.”

He recommended concerned parents first speak with their child’s pediatrician regarding any screenings.

Parents should also ask their children if they have any symptoms while exercising or playing sports, such as dizziness, heart palpitations, chest pains or shortness of breath.

While many athletes, like Sherrell, show no symptoms, some do.

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