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Doctors In Texas Screen Sixth-Graders For Heart Defects And Disease

Some doctors in Texas believe that all children, athletes or not, should be screened before playing sports

Findings convince them children throughout the state should be screened

In the U.S. there is a debate about whether young athletes should undergo mandatory screening before playing sports. But now, some doctors in Texas have come to believe that all children, athletes or not, should be screened.

Brandon Williams was only 13 years old when he suffered a fatal heart attack. Austin Sergeev was even younger - only 11 - when his heart stopped beating. Children as young as eight have experienced sudden cardiac arrest. In Italy, young athletes have a thorough medical exam that includes an electrocardiogram.

The program has reduced the number of incidents of sudden cardiac arrest, or heart attack, in these athletes.

Such screening programs have not been widely available in the U.S. Now a team of doctors in Texas is changing that. They are screening 1500 sixth-graders in Houston. Sam Franco-Jimenez had an electrocardiogram in his school gym. "They are checking so I won't have no trouble in the future to play sports," he said.

Dr. John Higgins and a team of cardiologists are examining all students, not just those interested in sports. Dr. Higgins wants to expand this program to every sixth grader in the state. Of 94 children screened last spring, seven had undiagnosed heart disease and two needed surgery.

"A lot of children with these problems, the first time anyone knows about them is when they have cardiac arrest....and these are kids who have seen their pediatricians, seen their doctors," Dr. Higgins said.

Renee Suchowiecky says these screenings might have saved her daughter's life. "My daughter, Nicole Katherine Suchowiecky, 11 years ago, 1998, collapsed on her playing field of her school and died of a sudden cardiac arrest," she stated.

Sudden heart failure occurs in approximately one out of 100,000 students each year. It is still a relatively low number compared to deaths from other illnesses. But the Houston cardiologists want to expand this program to include all students in the state of Texas.

Dr. Higgins says their findings so far underscore the need for heart examinations in addition to regular pediatric care. Renee Suchowiecky agrees.

"Even if you find only one, it's totally worth it," Suchowiecky said.