Should Your Child Be Screened for High Cholesterol?

Should Your Child Be Screened for High Cholesterol?

High cholesterol problems often continue in adulthood

Should Your Child Be Screened for High Cholesterol?

You might think that having high cholesterol is a worry only for adults. But with childhood obesity doublingin the United States in the past 30 years, youngsters now are at greater risk for having high cholesterol.

Because of this, some organizations such as The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) are calling for earlier cholesterol screening for some children.

The AAP recommends cholesterol testing for children:

  • Whose parents or grandparents have had heart attacks or have been diagnosed with blocked arteries or disease affecting the blood vessels, such as stroke, at age 55 or earlier in men, or 65 or earlier in women.
  • Whose parents or grandparents have blood cholesterol levels of 240 mg/dL or higher.
  • Whose family health background is not known (such as some adopted children), or those who have characteristics associated with heart disease, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, or obesity.

For children who fit in these categories, the AAP recommends their first cholesterol test should be after age 2 but no later than age 10.

The AAP and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) recommend that all children should be screened once between the ages of 9 and 11 years and again between the ages of 17 and 21 years.

RELATEDWhy You Should No Longer Worry About Cholesterol in Food

Variety of reasons

Obesity is not the only cause of high cholesterol in children. Other reasons can include diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease, or an underactive thyroid.

A doctor can check your child’s cholesterol with a simple blood test. If your child’s initial test shows high cholesterol, your pediatrician will check your child’s blood again at least two weeks later to confirm the results. If the level is still high, the doctor also will determine if your child has an underlying condition.

A recent government report indicates there is good evidence that children with cholesterol problems become adults with high cholesterol. So it’s important to monitor children who may have an increased risk of elevated cholesterol.

RELATED: Are You Feeding Your Children the Best, Most Healthy Food?

Reasons to screen

There are some good reasons to consider having your child screened for high cholesterol, says cardiologist Michael Rocco MD.

“Cholesterol levels tend to drop in pre-puberty and early puberty,” Dr. Rocco says. “So earlier measurements may actually give you a better assessment of what those cholesterol levels may be like as an adult.”

He adds that a recent study by the National Center for Health Statistics showed that one in five U.S. Children have unhealthy cholesterol levels and that obese children appear to be at the highest risk.

“It may be a much bigger problem than we previously recognized, which may be another reason to push toward more universal or early screening to help identify these children,” Dr. Rocco says.

Catching high cholesterol early enough in children may enable them to make lifestyle changes that will prevent them from having to battle with high cholesterol problems as adults, Dr. Rocco says.

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Hands Only CPR – Keep the Beat!

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How genetic sequencing can unlock secret DNA mutations — and save lives

Every year, thousands of young people who seemed otherwise healthy die suddenly. The reason sometimes is long-rooted, secret gene mutations passed down through the generations. Doctors at the Scripps Translational Science Institute are using gene sequencing and “molecular autopsies” to uncover these hidden mutations and allow patients to take preventative action. David Wagner of KPBS reports.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Each year, thousands of seemingly healthy young people suddenly die. And, in many cases, doctors aren’t able to determine the cause.

Scientists in San Diego are starting to solve some of these medical mysteries through a process called genetic sequencing. What they’re learning can have a profound ripple effect on surviving family members.

Science reporter David Wagner from our member station KPBS in San Diego reports.

DAVID WAGNER: Dardie Robinson leads a typical life in Portland, Oregon. She spends her days working as a paralegal and catching up with all the kids she has raised.

But unknown to her, she was carrying a genetic mutation that left her and family members vulnerable to sudden heart failure. A year-and-a-half ago, she received an unexpected call. It was about her son, Daniel.

DARDIE ROBINSON, Mother: I got a call out of the blue from his girlfriend. And — sorry — she said that paramedics were there working on Daniel, that she had found him, that he was blue and unresponsive.

And I told her, I said, “Tell him his momma loves him.”

And she said, “Well, I’m sure he can’t hear you.”

I said, “Tell him anyway.”

And so she did.

DAVID WAGNER: In tears, she left the office and got in her car.

DARDIE ROBINSON: And on the way home, I got the call that there was nothing they could do, and that he was gone.

DAVID WAGNER: Daniel was 29 and otherwise healthy. No one knew why he had died so suddenly.

DARDIE ROBINSON: That was, to me, part of the — really the worst part, is because the word to us initially was, they thought that he must have committed suicide, he must have taken something. And I kept saying, that doesn’t make sense.

DAVID WAGNER: An autopsy pointed to problems with his heart. And while she was relieved suicide was ruled out, the autopsy left her unsettled.

If this could kill Daniel at 29, could it strike her other biological children?

DARDIE ROBINSON: That was the question. Is it going to happen again? Which one of my kids? Me? I’m OK if it’s me, but I’m not OK if it’s my kids.

DAVID WAGNER: Not long after she received the autopsy report, Dardie read a Los Angeles Times story about a study happening in San Diego.

Scientists at the Scripps Translational Science Institute were using gene sequencing to take another look at cases like her son’s. They wanted to perform what they called molecular autopsies.

Scripps research Ali Torkamani says one of the reasons they agreed to take on Daniel’s case was a strong family history of early heart failure.

ALI TORKAMANI, Geneticist, Scripps Translational Science Institute: The fact that there was more than one sudden death in the family at a young age sort of highlighted the point for us, this is likely a genetic issue.

DAVID WAGNER: Daniel, at 29, was by far the youngest.

DARDIE ROBINSON: So, this was my dad. He as in the Navy.

DAVID WAGNER: But a number of Dardie’s relatives had died from sudden heart failure in their 40s and 50s.

DARDIE ROBINSON: And then there’s little Mr. Daniel.

DAVID WAGNER: With strong clues that Daniel’s death may have been related to his DNA, the Scripps researchers sequenced genes from Daniel’s heart tissue. They also sequenced his parents’ genes.

ALI TORKAMANI: And that’s when we found this mutation in this gene, TRPM4.

DAVID WAGNER: Torkamani says mutations on this gene have been known to cause a disorder called progressive familial heart block. It short-circuits the heart’s electrical signals, eventually causing the heart to just stop beating.

ALI TORKAMANI: And it’s that mutation that we believe is the cause of sudden death in Daniel and in other family members.

DARDIE ROBINSON: “The mutation is likely to be positive for sudden death.”

DAVID WAGNER: The researchers found the same mutation in Dardie, who had passed it down to Daniel. And because it’s an autosomal dominant gene, there’s a 50 percent chance she passed it down to her other children too.

Scripps director Eric Topol oversees the study. He says Dardie’s case illustrates how a genetic discovery in cases like this can provide valuable, even lifesaving information to surviving family members.

DARDIE ROBINSON: There, he was brand-new, brand-new baby.

ERIC TOPOL, Director, Scripps Translational Science Institute: Because this is something that is eminently preventable with things like a defibrillator. So, whereas all these relatives through many generations had sudden death, we may be able to actually preempt this in the future.

DAVID WAGNER: Dardie is now considering getting a surgically implanted device to protect her heart from what happened to Daniel’s. She’s also on a mission to get relatives on her side of the family tested for the mutation.

DARDIE ROBINSON: Daniel did something significant. He gave us answers that will benefit not just dozens, but potentially, down the road, hundreds of people, maybe even thousands, because I don’t believe that this is just limited to my family.

DAVID WAGNER: Not every case Scripps looks at is this clear-cut. But the researchers say certain discoveries they’re making could end up preventing other sudden deaths.

If this new approach to autopsies becomes more common, researchers say, perhaps, in the future, fewer families will have to live with the pain of not knowing how their loved one died.

For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m David Wagner in San Diego.


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Keeping Kids Fit: Preventing sudden cardiac death in kids



The most common cause of sudden death in young athletes is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a genetic disorder that leads to heart muscle that is thicker than normal

As a parent, the question you might have is, ‘How can I detect these problems before a tragedy happens?’

A 17-year-old dies while running track. A 12-year-old collapses while playing football. Sudden cardiac deaths claim the lives of 6,000 to 8,000 children and teenagers in the United States each year. About 25 percent of those deaths happen while children are playing sports.

The most common cause of sudden death in young athletes is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a genetic disorder that leads to heart muscle that is thicker than normal. Other common reasons are abnormal coronary arteries, an infection of the heart muscle, a genetic disorder that leads to abnormal muscle of the right pumping chamber, genetic changes in the heart cells that lead to life-threatening rhythms, genetic abnormalities of the wall of the aorta leading to rupture, and congenital abnormalities of the heart and its valves.

As a parent, the question you might have is, “How can I detect these problems before a tragedy happens?”

Many children with conditions that put them at risk for sudden death do not have any symptoms, but some do. You should have your child evaluated by your pediatrician if:

▪ Your child faints, has chest pain or gets dizzy during or after exercise.

▪ Your child has a heart murmur that your pediatrician is worried about.

▪ Your child tires more easily than his or her friends when exercising.

▪ A relative dies suddenly or dies of heart problems at a young age, under 50.

While your first stop will likely be your pediatrician if your child is exhibiting any of these symptoms, the doctor may decide that your child needs to see a pediatric cardiologist to diagnose a condition. Testing done during a cardiology visit typically includes an electrocardiogram and an echocardiogram, an ultrasound of the heart that can diagnose hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, abnormalities of the coronary arteries and abnormal heart structures like blocked or leaking heart valves. Additional tests that may be done are a cardiac MRI, a stress test or heart monitors used to record the heart rhythm.

Most people with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and many people who are at risk for an abnormal heart rhythm will have an abnormal electrocardiogram, a quick and painless test that records the electrical activity of the heart. Parents may choose to have their children get an electrocardiogram prior to playing sports, especially competitive sports, to screen for these problems.

Many of the genetic defects that cause abnormal heart muscle or life-threatening rhythms are known, and testing can be done on a blood sample to look for these abnormal genes. This is very helpful if someone in the family has tested positive for a gene defect that causes a heart problem. Other family members can be tested to see if they have the same condition.

Treatments vary based on the diagnosis. Children and teenagers with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, abnormal heart rhythms and abnormalities of the aorta are treated with medications. People with abnormalities of the coronary arteries can often be helped with surgery. Those with blocked heart valves can be helped with cardiac catheterization or surgery.

For people at high risk of sudden death, a defibrillator can be implanted. An implanted defibrillator is a device similar to a pacemaker that can detect a life-threatening rhythm automatically and can deliver a shock to the heart to stop the abnormal rhythm.

Sometimes, however, symptoms are not present and so a diagnosis cannot be made in advance of a cardiac event. So, what else can we do to prevent a tragedy?

If someone suffers cardiac arrest, the chances of surviving are improved with early defibrillation, shocking of the heart that can stop deadly abnormal heart rhythms. Automated external defibrillators (AEDs) are made for people without a medical background to use on a person in cardiac arrest. How to use an AED is part of CPR training.

To have the best outcomes, it’s critical that we decrease the time to defibrillation. This is accomplished by having AEDs in public places, such as high schools and youth athletic events. Parents, coaches and caregivers should also learn CPR.

If you suspect your child might have a cardiac condition, you can have him or her evaluated by a UHealth cardiologist. To schedule an appointment, call 305-585-6683.

Mary Sokoloski, M.D., is a pediatric cardiologist at UHealth – the University of Miami Health System, which is nationally and internationally acclaimed for education, research, patient care and biomedical innovation. For more information, visit

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Staff saves teen who went into cardiac arrest during volleyball game


A 17-year-old who collapsed and went into cardiac arrest during a volleyball game in Loganville, Georgia, says she’s alive because those around her knew just what to do.

Claire Crawford’s parents were recording the moment the teen fell to the ground at Loganville Christian Academy. You see the teen serve the ball, then suddenly grab her chest and collapse.

Staff and coaches at the school rushed to her and immediately went into live-saving mode, calling 911 and grabbing the AED, or automated external defibrillator.

“I remember slowly going black. I don’t remember hitting the floor so I was our before hitting the floor,” Crawford said.

Academic Deam Julie Sirmans recalled running to grab the defibrillator:

“(I) very quickly grabbed the AED, which was just about 35 steps away from where Claire had fallen. I took the AED back to Claire. We opened it up, turned it on, we got the pads on her and then the AED began to prompt us.”

Crawford’s parents were by her side the whole time.

“She was very clinched up and kind of blank looking and not any color at all in her face. (I was) very scared. I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared and I’ve had some scary things,” Crawford’s mother, Lisa, said.

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta posted the video on their Facebook page promoting Project S.A.V.E. Drill Day this Friday with the hope of getting everyone prepared should a student or teacher go into sudden cardiac arrest. In less than a day it’s been viewed 1.5 million times.

“They make a great wall decoration but if you don’t know how to use them and it’s not working it’s useless,” Claire’s dad, Eric Crawford, said.

“We’re grateful. We feel God was in control and he put us where we supposed to be and there were no coincidences,” Lisa Crawford said.

Claire’s parents say every parent should make sure an AED is nearby when students are competing and they should know CPR.

“Without the AED there’s no way I would’ve made it and the ambulance wouldn’t have gotten here on time,” Claire Crawford said.

The Crawford family doesn’t have a history of cardiac problems, but Claire says there were symptoms before her heart attack. She says she had pain in her shoulder and had surgery for it, but the burning sensation continued.

She went to several doctors before the game but not one caught it. It’s still unclear what caused her to go into cardiac arrest.

“I have no medical history, my wife doesn’t have medical history in our families that would cause this you just don’t know,” Eric Crawford said.

Doctors found several unexplained blockages while diagnosing Claire at CHOA. They then sent her to Emory where she underwent a triple bypass surgery.

Updated: 6:35 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016 | Posted: 3:49 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016

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7 Things You Should Know About Sudden Cardiac Arrest


Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is a leading cause of death in the U.S., affecting about 326,200 people of all ages outside hospitals every day. Dave Goldberg, CEO of Survey Monkey and husband of Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, was one of its recent victims.

During this week alone, about 6,250 unsuspecting victims will suffer SCA, most of them (70 percent) at home. Their hearts will unexpectedly stop beating and blood will no longer flow to the brain and throughout the body. They will collapse, stop breathing normally, and may appear to be having seizures. In essence, they will be dead — and they will stay this way unless bystanders act immediately to restore their heartbeats with CPR and defibrillation.

Unfortunately, only one-third of SCA victims receives CPR from bystanders and fewer than five percent are treated with automated external defibrillators (AEDs) before EMS arrives at the scene. But for every minute that passes without CPR and defibrillation, the chances of survival decrease by 7-10 percent. As a result, only 11 percent of victims typically survive. Yet survival rates could double or triple if more people knew what to do when SCA strikes. In fact, as many as 50,000 additional lives could be saved each year.

Why don’t more people know and use these fundamental lifesaving skills? Seven common myths may be barriers to bystander action.

  • Myth No. 1: SCA is rare. Fact: The number of people who die from SCA each day is equivalent to the number who would die if two jet planes crashed every single day killing nearly everyone on board.
  • Myth: No. 2: SCA is the same as a heart attack. Fact: When people have heart attacks, they are awake and their hearts are beating. When people have SCA, they are not awake and their hearts are not beating. Heart attack can lead to SCA, but there are also many other causes.
  • Myth No. 3: SCA only happens to the elderly. Fact: SCA happens to people of all ages, including more than 6,000 youth under the age of 18 each year.
  • Myth No. 4: SCA only happens to people with a history of heart problems. Fact: SCA is often the first indication of a heart problem.
  • Myth No. 5: Victims are better off waiting for professional help to arrive. Fact: Time is of the essence. Immediate bystander intervention can mean the difference between life and death.
  • Myth No. 6: Only trained personnel are allowed to use AEDs. Fact: AEDs can be used effectively by anyone who can follow visual and voice prompts.
  • Myth No. 7: AEDs can hurt people by shocking them inappropriately.Fact: People in cardiac arrest are clinically dead. Your actions can only help. AEDs are safe and effective and will not shock the heart unless shocks are needed to restore a healthy heartbeat.

Given the facts and the tremendous opportunity to save so many more lives, we urge the public to seek CPR and AED training during the first week of June, National CPR-AED Awareness Week. Our growing survivor network is a testament to the fact that immediate CPR and defibrillation saves lives. Since most cardiac arrests occur in the home, taking a few minutes to learn CPR and how to use an AED could mean the difference between life and death for your loved one.

You can save a life. Here’s how:

  1. Call 9-1-1 and follow dispatcher instructions.
  2. Start CPR. Press hard and fast on the center of the chest at a rate of 100 beats per minute (e.g., to the tune of “Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees).
  3. Use the nearest AED as quickly as possible.

To learn more about the importance of CPR, watch this PSA, featuring Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation National Spokesperson, Susan Koeppen.

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Sudden cardiac arrest is preventable epidemic

Wyatt Barber died after collapsing at a football practice. He wast just 9 years old (Photo: Twitter)

By  November 25, 2015

Wyatt Barber died after collapsing at a football practice. He wast just 9 years old (Photo: Twitter)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Lindsay Davis, a former Miss Ohio, is helping spearhead a bill in the Ohio state legislature proposed by State Sen. Cliff Hite that would require all coaches and teachers to undergo education on the symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest. The Sudden Cardiac Arrest Bill is sponsored by Hite and co-sponsored Sen. Tom Patton and will be introduced in January. A companion bill is scheduled for the state House of Representatives. Davis, a former high school student athlete and dancer, was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy at age 17.

Student cardiac arrest accounts for 14,000 deaths annually in children and young adults in the United States and is the leading cause of death in this age group, according to the Heart Rhythm Society. Among young athletes, only one in 10 who suffer SCA survive and 23,000 high school athletes will die from SCA, according to British Journal of Sports Medicine. The Center for Disease Control found that SCA takes the life of at least one child every three days in organized youth sports.

These numbers are staggering and represent a silent epidemic that flies under the radar in youth and high school sports and that needs to change. Sudden cardiac arrest is an important and emotionally charged public health issue that must be addressed.

While on the surface it appears to be a complex problem, practical and simple solutions can be implemented to prevent a number of senseless tragedies.

Sudden cardiac arrest in student-athletes can strike without warning. The athlete’s heart suddenly stops; the electrical system that keeps the heart functioning stops; and research shows the student-athlete dies in nine out of 10 cases. While the limited implementation of automated external defibrillators in school settings has prevented death in a small number of circumstances, many incidents fall outside of these locales or happen too quickly for the utilization of a post-SCA intervention.

The impetus for sudden cardiac arrest lies in an undetected physical defect of the heart. This undiagnosed heart condition manifests itself in a series of symptoms that are often consistent with common conditions associated with physical exertion and athletics such as dizziness and shortness of breath, making the cause hard to distinguish. Of the deaths in student-athletes, 72% have previously reported having symptoms, according to the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine. Often, those are not recognized as signs of a serious underlying condition. Shortness of breath, dizziness, extreme fatigue, syncope, and tachycardia (racing heart) are all symptoms of a serious heart condition. You should also be on notice if a family member died suddenly and unexpectedly under the age of 50.  All of these can indicate that the student-athlete is potentially susceptible.

The simple solution to preventing a vast majority of these tragedies is education. A population of coaches and teachers who are knowledgeable on these specific symptoms and their corresponding cardiac implications could provide the intervention that these young lives desperately need.

Legislation to protect the cardiac health of student-athletes exists in nine states: Pennsylvania, Washington, Illinois, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware. The state athletic associations in California and Florida have have adopted protocols similar to those mandated in the legislation elsewhere, putting the national total at 11 states.

Compare that to concussion legislation. Strong youth sports concussion safety laws have been enacted in 49 states and the District of Columbia since 2009. Lawmakers and other institutions have created a series of policies and standards to protect the brain health of student-athletes, but few have shown the same attention to cardiac health. A great disparity exists between the urgency to address head injuries compared and the focus on deaths because of sudden cardiac arrest in youth sports.

Nikki Valdez of Sherman Oaks Note Dame freshman Nikki Valdez collapsed and died during an early season practice (Photo: Facebook)

Nikki Valdez of Sherman Oaks Note Dame freshman Nikki Valdez collapsed and died during an early season practice (Photo: Facebook)

In addition to domestic implementation of preventative legislation, Italy and Israel have national mandatory screening for cardiovascular disease for student-athletes. According to the American Heart Association, Germany, Sweden, England, China, the Netherlands, France, Norway, Denmark, Japan, Switzerland and Spain all have SCA screening discussions in legislation.

“Screening programs have predominantly been implemented in Italy, Israel, and Japan while other countries don’t do systematic screening,” said Dr. Pascal Meier, of the British Medical Journal research team and the editor in chief of Open Heart. “Most athletes have an underlying heart problem which had been unknown but which could be detected with a rather simple screening.”

Legislation is in motion in a handful of states, including Ohio, to help coaches and teachers understand the dangers and symptoms. The bill proposed in the state Senate and House in Ohio would require coaches and teachers to watch an informative eight-minute video on the symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest and the corresponding protocol in dealing with a symptomatic athlete. The proposed legislation requires that these athletes are pulled from competition, whether a practice or game, and examined by a physician. The bill is budget-neutral, costing the state and taxpayers nothing, and is the stopgap that every state needs to implement.

“It is important to raise awareness of the risk and the symptoms – nobody is expecting heart problems in young otherwise healthy athletes,” Meier said. “Unfortunately, heart disease is usually hidden and young people can still achieve enormous performances despite an underlying heart condition. It is therefore crucial to sensibilize athletes, trainers and event organizers.”

Early intervention is a necessary safeguard for student-athletes.

“The best chance for survival results when SCA is recognized immediately, CPR is begun immediately and defibrillation occurs promptly,” said Dr. Larry Creswell of “The chances for survival decreases with each passing minute.”

Burke County offensive lineman Rod Williams died Oct. 5, nearly two weeks after he initially collapsed at football practice on Sep. 22 (Photo: YouTube screen shot)

Burke County offensive lineman Rod Williams died Oct. 5, nearly two weeks after he initially collapsed at football practice on Sep. 22 (Photo: YouTube screen shot)

Thousands of student-athletes might be one or more practices or games away from having a cardiac incident. The intervention by an educated coach, teacher or parent can save lives. Should the proper measures and mechanisms be implemented, such as the bill being proposed in Ohio, many of these tragic deaths can be avoided. The story can end in a life saved rather than a life lost.

“This is your heart we’re talking about,” said NBA veteran Channing Frye of the Orlando Magic. “(For young athletes) to fully understand the amount of stress they put on their heart every time they work out or compete is huge …

“This is life and death. If a parent or guardian wants to have their child play in high level sports, they should get them tested. It’s about getting more information to make sure your child is safe and their heart is healthy.”

The sad reality is that next to nothing is being done to protect young athletes. Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce was asked about his heart health, and the 26- year-old said, “When I stop to think about it, my heart has never been checked.”

“I think the biggest thing I can do as an athlete is bring awareness to the issue,” he said. “Being in the NFL, the common language being thrown around centers on concussions. But, when you look at the data and information SCA is a much bigger issue that doesn’t get the attention simply because it’s not as obvious as a concussion and people can’t see the stress young athletes put on their hearts. So being able to show these young athletes what they can do to screen themselves or help make them aware of what symptoms might be could be the difference from a kid getting misdiagnosed as tired to saving his or her life.”

Young athletes such as Georgia football player Rod Williams, New Jersey basketball player Nixon Geraldo, and 9-year-old Ohio football player Wyatt Barber are among those who have died since the school year started.

Sudden cardiac arrest has no preference. Football players, basketball players, cross country runners, swimmers, lacrosse and soccer players and kids in physical education class have all passed away from an undetected and undiagnosed heart condition. We can change all this by taking action.

We have provided solutions for our athletes’ heads, but what about their hearts? The responsibility of a generation of student-athletes’ lives is squarely in our hands. Write or call your senator or state representative and demand they take action and help adopt legislation that already exists in nine states. One more child is lost to sudden cardiac arrest every one to three days that passes without action — another child that statistically, could have been saved.


This is dedicated in memorandum to the student athletes lost this year alone to sudden cardiac arrest. May your lives continue to inspire us and your passing implore us to the prevention of SCA in other students like yourselves.  Kyle Brewer, Damian Campbell, Emma Aronson, O’Maury Chambers, Delaney Riley, Sydney Gallager, Wyatt Barber, Allison Brown, Breanna Vergara, Kaiti Williams, Jonathan Antonishen, Ja’leel Freeman, Ryan Gillyard, Michael Namey, Chase Sayles, Cameron Pepra, Jon Derynda, Sam White, Colt Cardwell, Jack Pogatchnik, Jose Manuel Beltran, Lauryn Neterer, Malik Davis, Matt Skowronki, Andy Vazquez, Leah Goff, Xavier Mendoza, Damian Campbell, Sumner Smith, Isaac Brooks, Dramon Ratcliff, Laquan Pleas, Michael Sanchez, Laura Palma, Aidan Ransom, Omari Chambers, Mark Lewis, Titus Martin Jr. Tekarian Maclin, Paula Hernandez,Sierra Hardenburg, Dramon Ratcliff, Mohammed Sharief, Nikki Valdez and Nixon Geraldo and the many more that were not reported in the media. 

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Parents fight to keep kids from dying of sudden cardiac arrest

Christina Tatu

Contact ReporterOf The Morning Call

Fighting to keep kids from dying from sudden cardiac arrest

The simple wooden cross that for 15 years marked Gregory Moyer’s final resting place in a small Shawnee-on-Delaware cemetery was recently replaced by a slate headstone engraved with a basketball bearing the number 23, the number that appeared on Gregory’s Notre Dame (East Stroudsburg) High School jersey.

For Gregory’s parents, John and Rachel Moyer, the headstone was to signify the completion of a monumental goal: providing automated external defibrillators in every school across the country.

It was a goal born Dec. 2, 2000, the night Gregory collapsed during halftime of a basketball game at East Stroudsburg North High School in Pike County. Gregory, a 220-pound sophomore with an undiagnosed heart condition, died a short time later at the nearest hospital — 20 minutes away.

What if the school had an on-site defibrillator? Maybe their 15-year-old son’s life could have been saved.

Since then, the Moyer family has vowed to advocate for the widespread availability of defibrillators. They set up the Gregory W. Moyer Defibrillator Fund ( to raise money and provide AEDs to schools. The fund has given away more than 2,000 defibrillators in his name and publicity from the donations has led some businesses and organizations to buy more on their own.

Rachel Moyer, a former special education teacher in New York state who left her job in 2007 to focus on teaching weekly CPR and AED classes, estimates her family has trained more than 20,000 people how to use the devices.

The headstone was to be the final piece of closure. Instead it’s a bittersweet memorial, only because there is still so much more work to do.

“After 15 years, we recognize Gregory needs a headstone. This doesn’t mean we are giving up,” Rachel Moyer said.

Only 23 states require defibrillators in at least some of their schools, according to the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation, a Pittsburgh nonprofit that advocates for more access to AEDs.

The small, portable machines can deliver a potentially life-saving shock to those who go into sudden cardiac arrest, in addition to using an automated voice that guides the user on how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

To show they were serious about their objective, the Moyers, who live in Shawnee-on-Delaware, said they wouldn’t install a headstone on their son’s grave until every school in the country had an AED.

“I think we said every school because we thought it was such a slam dunk,” John Moyer said. “Why would you not protect your school’s greatest asset, the students? We figured it would spread like wildfire, but it hasn’t.”

More than 326,000 people experience cardiac arrest — an abrupt loss of heart function — each year, according to the American Heart Association. For every minute that passes without CPR or a shock from an AED, the chance of survival from cardiac arrest decreases by about 10 percent.

About 90 percent of those who go into sudden cardiac arrest outside a hospital setting die, often because bystanders don’t know how to start CPR or are afraid they will do something wrong, according to the association.

Of those who go into sudden cardiac arrest, 6,328 are like Gregory Moyer, younger than 18.

Gregory was an active teenager who underwent three sports physicals per year, but doctors missed the hypertrophic cardiomyopathy that eventually took his life, Rachel Moyer said. The boy who was known for his practical jokes and warm personality had an enlarged heart.

Cardiac arrest doesn’t only strike those who are being physically active, said Mary Newman, of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation. Even someone sitting at a desk can experience a sudden interruption to the electrical signals that control the heartbeat.

Unlike its neighbors to the north and east, Pennsylvania requires defibrillators in hotels and health clubs only. By comparison, New York requires them in health clubs, dental offices, swimming pools, places of public assembly and state buildings, as well as all schools. New Jersey requires them in all public and private K-12 schools, assisted living facilities, nursing homes and health clubs.

“It should be a no-brainer that you have AEDs in schools,” Newman said. “That’s where 20 percent of the population is on any given day, and cardiac arrest can strike anyone of any age”

Last year, Pennsylvania legislators approved Act 35, creating a registry of AEDs in public and private schools, including their age and condition. To assist schools, the state provides access to the machines at reduced costs. And it offers grants and tax credits to help schools buy them.

Although the Moyers see the law as a step in the right direction, they are fighting to mandate school districts to have the machines.

Fewer than half the state’s school districts have followed Act 35 in providing information to the state Department of Education. As of this month, 228 of the state’s 500 districts responded, the department said, along with 29 of 86 career and technical centers, 26 of 174 charter schools and 10 of the 29 intermediate units.

The school districts were required to provide the information by June 30, 2014, but the law did not include any penalty for non-compliance, said Nicole Reigelman, a department spokeswoman. The database is due to be updated next month.

It’s unclear how many of the 17 districts in Lehigh and Northampton counties have AEDs because less than half checked in with the state. Allentown, Bethlehem Area, Northwestern Lehigh, Parkland, Salisbury and the Whitehall-Coplay school districts responded to say they have AEDs and in which of their schools.

The Centennial School of Lehigh University, Circle of Seasons Charter School, Lehigh Valley Charter School for the Arts and Lehigh Career and Technical Institute also responded, as did the Colonial Intermediate Unit 20 and Colonial Intermediate Unit 21, which both service the Lehigh Valley.

In Lehigh Valley schools, AEDs range in age from 1 to 13 years old.

The cost and upkeep of the machines have likely played a role in the state’s decision not to mandate their use in schools. When the Moyers started their campaign, AEDs cost $3,300 each. They now cost $800 to $1,500.

The machine lasts about 10 years, but the batteries and sticky pads that attach to a patient’s chest to monitor the heartbeat and potentially deliver a shock must be replaced every few years at an additional cost.

Fear of liability is perhaps the biggest hurdle, though it’s unfounded, Jonathan Kirch of the American Heart Association said.

Many states, including Pennsylvania, have good Samaritan laws in place to protect those who make an AED available and use it in an emergency.

“Anyone who sees a cardiac emergency should come to the aid of the victim. Period,” Kirch said.

The association advocates that schools require students to take CPR training, including AED use before they graduate from high school.

So far, 27 states have made CPR training a requirement for graduation, including Delaware, New Jersey and New York.

Pennsylvania does not mandate the training. However, bills in the state Senate and House would make it a graduation requirement.

Rachel Moyer has grown weary of the delays but stays true to the “beat goes on” motto she and her husband follow in their campaign.

“I don’t know how to reach everyone,” she said. “Sometimes I feel like a hamster on a wheel. We keep going, hoping something will happen.”

Despite their frustrations, the Moyers’ accomplishments are impressive and they continue to do more.

Through the fund, the Moyers donated AEDs to all schools in Monroe County, where they raised Gregory and daughters Katie and Abbie.

They also gave one device to each of Pennsylvania’s 89 state police barracks.

Rachel Moyer was also instrumental in New York’s AED legislation. She lobbied legislators, answered questions and appeared on several TV programs to gain support for the statewide program.

Gregory lives on in the thousands of life-saving donations his family has made and will continue to make. In tribute, his parents had his headstone engraved with the words he said as he boarded the bus to what ended up being his last basketball game.

“Don’t worry guys, I’m here,” Rachel Moyer recalls him jokingly saying to his teammates as he arrived late for the bus.

“I think he purposefully left something for us to do,” Rachel Moyer said. “We are proactive, not reactive. You don’t want to wait until another kid dies.”

On Thursday, a day after the 15th anniversary of Gregory’s death, Rachel Moyer delivered two new AEDs to St. Jane Frances de Chantal School in Wilson. The K-8 school’s original AEDs were among the Moyers’ first donations.

Luckily, the school has never had to use them, said Charlie McGarvey, a physical education teacher there.

“You never know if a student or teacher may be in need and we are prepared if the situation arises,” he said.

Twitter @ChristinaTatu


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What is Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA)?

• SCA is the condition in which the electrical system of the heart malfunctions, resulting in a disruption of the heart’s normal rhythm and the loss of its ability to deliver blood to the body. If untreated, this abrupt disruption results in sudden death.

What is an Automated External Defibrillator (AED)?

• An AED is a medical device designed to quickly analyze the heart’s rhythm and safely deliver an electric shock, if needed. An AED will not shock someone if the heart rhythm is not life-threatening.

• Most AEDs can be used by anyone, including someone as young as a sixth grader. • AEDs guide users by audible prompts. Some have audible and visual prompts as well.

Why should AEDs be available everywhere youth congregate (i.e. schools, leagues, recreation centers, fields, etc.)?

• The only definitive emergency treatment for SCA is defibrillation (AED), which involves the rapid delivery of an electric shock to the heart.

• SCA is the leading cause of death on school property, which includes not only children, but also teachers, administrators, parents and visitors.

• Many SCA victims have no prior history of heart disease and are stricken without warning.

• The first person on the scene of a cardiac arrest is in the best position of saving a life, if the rescuer is equipped with an AED.

• Chance for survival decreases by 10% for every minute defibrillation is delayed.

• In the United States, the average response time for Emergency Medical Services is 9 to 12 minutes.

• The presence of AEDs in public places is saving countless lives around the country.

For more information, visit or call 1-800-717-5828

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Parent Heart Watch – Protecting Youth From Sudden Cardiac Arrest


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