Teen athlete’s sudden death spotlights need for screenings

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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  1. I think Dr. Marek’s recommendations are timely! Sounds like it wouldn’t be a bad idea to take a refresher course in CPR.

  2. This awareness is necessary and needed. I recently had a similar experience but thanks be to God, a favorable outcome. My 20 yr. old daughter was 7 weeks into basic training with the Army reserve when she started experiencing severe chest pains and trouble breathing. She has no past history of this ever occurring. An EKG was done and she was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolff-Parkinson-White_syndrome). Apparently she was born with this abnormality but it was never detected since she never had a need, so I thought, for an EKG. Once home, she was evaluated at Advocate IMMC.and scheduled for surgery two weeks later. The procedure was done in a few hours and she was allowed to go home the same day. Her heart is normal and she can resume any and all physical activity. Again, I thank God, the great team at AMG Cardiac Arrhythmia and the wonderful associates at Advocate IMMC. Our story ended with a great outcome. I pray others, who have active children will consider having them scheduled for an EKG.

    Tony, thanks for spotlighting this needed awareness.

  3. Lynn Hutley

    We have a similar program is central Illinois called Advocate for Young Hearts and the parents of the participating high school students are grateful.

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.