Simon and Back to the Future

Published by the Huffington Post

Happy Back to the Future Day! Yes, in case you missed it like I did 30 years ago, Marty traveled to October 21, 2015 in Back to the Future II.

It seems like yesterday that I watched this epic movie. “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” Remember, Doc said that. How about “Why don’t you make like a tree and get outta here? ” That was Biff. While we’re reminiscing, I’ll admit to a huge crush on Michael J. Fox.

I was fourteen. It was 1985. Homework, boys and tennis matches occupied my brain, so forgive me if I wasn’t thinking past October 21, 1986. Back then, I never knew what a tremendous impact this date would have on my life.

We’ve all thought about going back in time at some point in our lives. Remember the good ‘ol days! For you, was it the rebellion of high school or the freedom of college? I definitely took those years for granted.

For the last ten years, I’ve been dreaming about going back in time . . . almost every day. On October 21, 2004, my son, Simon, was born. He was my second child. He scored eight and nine on his APGAR test. He was average for height and weight. I was so excited for my daughter Sally to have a brother. I was happy to be a family of four.

When Marty traveled back in time, he had to make sure his parents fell in love so that he could secure his future. He also had to warn Doc about the assassination attempt. I’m sorry if I just spoiled the movie for you. Where have you been for the last thirty years?

If I could, I would travel back to Lankenau Hospital on October 2, 2004, when I was admitted for pre-term labor. I would request an electrocardiogram (ECG) to check my heart. They checked the flux capacitor before traveling through time. Why don’t we check a women’s heart before she goes into labor? It may not be as strenuous as time travel, but it’s a close second. Doesn’t it make sense to ensure that our “engine” is in good working order?

That simple and inexpensive test would have discovered a heart condition called Long QT Syndrome. It’s a potentially-fatal arrhythmia that is linked to sudden death, cardiac arrest and up to 15 percent of all SIDS deaths.

My next move would have been to get Simon tested.

Hollywood may imitate life, but life doesn’t always have a happy movie ending. I didn’t get to warn or protect Simon. He died on January 24, 2005, three months old, while taking a nap.

Since Back to the Future debuted in 1985, so much has changed. There were things in that movie that seemed unimaginable. Marty McFly got fired by his boss on a video call. Sound like Skype or FaceTime? Biff paid for a taxi by scanning his fingerprint. Are you using Apple Pay or your fingerprint to access your iPhone? Remember the wraparound glasses that Doc wore? Google Glass. It’s incredible to think that imagination transformed into reality.

I wish I could say the same thing about advancements in the prevention of sudden cardiac death of students.

In 1996, The American Heart Association, under the direction of Dr. Barry Maron, came out with recommendations on how to screen student athletes for underlying heart conditions. It concluded that a history and physical was enough. It rejected the ECG exam for “practical and cost-efficiency” reasons.

Last year, the American Heart Association, still under the direction of Dr. Barry Maron, issued its third statement on the matter. After eighteen years of medical advancements, the group added two questions to the medical history. It still rejected the use of the ECG exam. That’s all.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, two thousand young adults die every year from sudden cardiac arrest. I think this number is much higher as most of the data is based on newspaper reports and insurance death records – two unreliable sources. But, let’s just assume for a moment that’s the right number. Over the last 18 years, at least 36,000 young adults have lost their lives to detectable and treatable heart conditions. The AHA response was to add two questions.

We couldn’t figure out a way to track the causes of death of children? We couldn’t get closer to determining the number of children who have undetected heart conditions? We couldn’t establish guidelines for a “normal” child’s heart? We couldn’t find answers to the “practical and cost-efficiency” questions raised in 1996 about ECG exams?

Dr. Emmett Brown worked tirelessly on solving his riddle – time travel. His character may have been fictional, but his attributes of passion and curiosity are not. It feels like those attributes are missing from this effort.

I can’t travel back in time to save Simon. However, I can play a part in changing the future. We will create a new standard of care so that every child receives a heart screening. In my future, children won’t die from detectable and treatable heart conditions. In my future, two decades of medical innovation will yield more than two questions.

Happy Back to the Future Day. Happy Birthday, Simon.

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