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Cardiac Concerns: Saving Kids From Sudden Death

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BALTIMORE, Md. - Sudden cardiac arrest claims the lives of hundreds of children each year, and yet standard sports physicals miss 96 percent of those at risk. But there are warning signs that could help save kids' lives.

Dave and Kim Waltman remember their daughter Taylor being silly. But just ten days before her thirteenth birthday, she collapsed during soccer practice.

"I remember she gave me a look like ‘I don't want to run this lap,'" Dave and Kim Waltman told Ivanhoe.

While she never showed signs of a heart problem, Taylor died of sudden cardiac arrest.

"That night we all had to go up to the hospital. We were there all night. Worst night of our lives," Dave and Kim Waltman explained.

Like Taylor, not all kids at risk will have obvious symptoms, but Doctor Jane Crosson said there are things to watch out for, like family history.

"We always say, any sudden death under 35, have the immediate relatives screened for these genetic conditions that can cause sudden death," Jane Crosson, M.D., director of pediatric electrophysiology at Johns Hopkins Children's Center, explained.

She said even unexplained car accidents or drowning cases where a family member may have passed out before they passed away need to be looked at.

"In people that died swimming, 28 percent or 29 percent had a genetic abnormality that wasn't previously recognized," Dr. Crosson explained.

Other red flags include kids complaining of chest pain while exercising or playing, and fainting or passing out during an activity. While EKGs can detect about 60 percent of those at risk, Doctor Crosson said schools need these defibrillators to help the other 40 percent of kids who go undetected.

After the Waltman's had their family tested they learned, like Taylor, their younger daughter Shelby had a heart problem too.

"Of course we worry about her every day, but we just have faith that they can treat it," Dave and Kim Waltman said.

And they have faith their story could save children from what killed their daughter.

If detected and treated early, kids with heart conditions can go on to lead normal lives. When it comes to automatic extended defibrillators or AEDs, every second counts. Survival rates after a cardiac event can drop 10-percent every minute without an AED.

RESEARCH SUMMARY

WHAT CAUSES SUDDEN CARDIAC ARREST: Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is a condition in which the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating. If this happens, blood stops flowing to the brain and other vital organs. SCA is not the same as a heart attack. A heart attack occurs if blood flow to part of the heart muscle is blocked. During a heart attack, the heart usually doesn't suddenly stop beating. SCA, however, may happen after or during recovery from a heart attack. People who have heart disease are at higher risk for SCA. However, SCA can happen in people who appear healthy and have no known heart disease or other risk factors for SCA. Certain diseases and conditions can cause the electrical problems that lead to SCA. Examples include coronary heart disease (CHD), also called coronary artery disease; severe physical stress; certain inherited disorders; and structural changes in the heart. (Source: nhlbi.nih.gov)

SIGNS OF SCA: Usually, the first sign of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is loss of consciousness (fainting). At the same time, no heartbeat (or pulse) can be felt. Some people may have a racing heartbeat or feel dizzy or light-headed just before they faint. Within an hour before SCA, some people have chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea (feeling sick to the stomach), or vomiting. (Source: nhlbi.nih.gov)

PREVENTION AND TREATMENT: If you've already had SCA, you're at high risk of having it again. Research shows that an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) reduces the chances of dying from a second SCA. If you're at high risk for a first SCA, your doctor may prescribe a type of medicine called a beta blocker to help lower your risk for SCA. Other treatments for CHD, such as angioplasty or coronary artery bypass grafting, also may lower your risk for SCA. If you have no known risk factors for SCA, CHD seems to be the cause of most SCAs in adults. CHD also is a major risk factor for angina (chest pain or discomfort) and heart attack, and it contributes to other heart problems. Following a healthy lifestyle with diet and exercise can help you lower your risk for CHD, SCA, and other heart problems. Also, try quitting smoking, losing weight, and treating other issues like high blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes. To treat SCA, defibrillation is needed within minutes to keep them alive. You should give cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to a person having SCA until defibrillation can be done. People who are at risk for SCA may want to consider having an AED at home. If you survive SCA, you'll likely be admitted to a hospital for ongoing care and treatment. In the hospital, your medical team will closely watch your heart. They may give you medicines to try to reduce the risk of another SCA. (Source: nhlbi.nih.gov)

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:

Ekaterina Pesheva
Johns Hopkins Children's Center
(410) 502-9433 cell
epeshev1@jhmi.edu

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