Teen athlete’s sudden death spotlights need for screenings
News about the sudden death of a 16-year-old basketball player from Chicago’s western suburbs shocked the high school sports world earlier this week. Jermaine Cullum, collapsed during a game and was rushed to the hospital, but did not survive.
Published reports say Cullum’s mother eventually decided to remove him from life support. Cullum apparently died from cardiac arrest.
“This is very sad news,” says Dr. Joseph Marek, a cardiologist with Advocate Medical Group in Chicago. “We can make an impact on these deaths. We can’t detect and prevent all of them, but we can detect and prevent most of them by doing EKG screenings on high school student athletes. It’s a quick, simple and painless procedure, but it needs to be interpreted properly.”
According to the American Heart Association, 82 percent of cardiovascular deaths have occurred with physical exertion during competition or training.
“It’s unimaginable seeing a young athlete who has been conditioning, training and eating well to die suddenly of sudden cardiac arrest,” Dr. Marek says. “Most disturbingly, this tragedy happens to more than 3,000 young adults in the United States each year, so many, in fact, that I could not sit sidelined anymore; I felt I had to act.”
So, Dr. Marek created Young Hearts for Life®, a program that provides EKG screenings to students in area high schools to detect heart irregularities before a tragic episode. EKGs are more sensitive [than standard screenings] for detecting the ‘silent diseases’ that lead to sudden death. EKG screenings are the key to early detection and treatment.
Today, Dr. Marek and his team have devised a system that has allowed them to perform over 100,000 EKG screenings in fewer than eight years in order to make an impact on students who otherwise would not be screened.
“The key to dealing with a tragic event like this successfully is early recognition,” Dr. Marek says. “This means having more people trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). They know when and how to initiate CPR properly and activate the emergency medical system by calling paramedics and using an AED (automatic external defibrillator). This is one of just a few situations in health care when seconds count.”
As a health care provider, Dr. Marek believes his role is to inform parents and the community:
1) Your child may be at risk for sudden cardiac arrest
2) Get an EKG for your child; it may help detect an undiagnosed heart condition
3) Schools must be prepared to handle emergency health care situations
“All people should get training. That may mean simply getting trained in order to help someone who may collapse suddenly on the train. Bystander-initiated CPR can double survival rates,” Dr. Marek says.
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