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Big Changes for the 2019/20 School Year: ECGs for Student Athletes in Florida and Texas

Students who participate in athletics are exercising their way into a healthy body and lifestyle. Statistically speaking, they are more likely to demonstrate higher scholastic performance and enhanced self-esteem than their counterparts who do not participate in extracurricular activities. But even though the benefits of a team sport’s discipline and responsibility are great, parents should always put the health of their student athlete at the forefront.

You may be a busy parent who’s tempted to just “check the box” when the time comes for signing that sports participation consent form. But maybe you would consider looking more closely if you knew that sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is the leading cause of death in student athletes. For this reason, it is imperative that you sit down with your child and speak openly about any heart-related symptoms they may be feeling.

That being said, your child may feel no different than usual, and you may take this as no cause for concern. However, heart conditions often show no signs. So how are you or your child supposed to know if a tragic incident may be on the horizon? Two Florida public school districts are now operating alongside a nonprofit organization, called Who We Play For, dedicated to the awareness and prevention of SCA. They are working diligently to promote the idea that proper steps can be taken to find heart defects before it’s too late.

Beginning in the 2019-2020 school year, Brevard and Osceola County public schools have adopted a policy regarding measures to prevent SCA. It requires student athletes to receive a physical examination as well as an electrocardiogram (ECG) to test for underlying heart conditions. These could include irregular heart rhythms and even cardiomyopathy, both risk factors for SCA. The test is non-invasive and takes about five minutes to complete. Once performed, the results of your child’s ECG will stay on record for the whole of their high school career. ECGs are interpreted by pediatric cardiologists from local children’s hospital.

International guidelines recommend ECG testing every two years through age 25.

This screening program is a model for what can be done to ensure youth get comprehensive cardiac risk assessments. For example, while the cost of testing is sometimes a concern for parents, in Brevard County students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch are eligible for free screening through Who We Play For. Also note that Brevard County offers parents the ability to opt out of the ECG, but Osceola County does not have this option.

Likewise, the State of Texas just passed House Bill 76, which incorporates ECG testing into student athlete pre-participation physical evaluation. It is an opt-in program, the details of which will be implemented and supervised by the University Interscholastic League (UIL) effective September 1st.

Both screening models set the stage for evolving the standard of preventative care for our kids. But ECG screening isn’t enough. Parents must be diligent about gathering their family heart health history and sharing it with their child’s doctor. Also educate themselves about the warning signs and symptoms of a heart condition to facilitate early detection. Then, taking advantage of community screening programs, or working with their doctor to get an ECG adds a level of prevention that’s been missing from youth health care. Kids shouldn’t die playing the sport they love. Make sure their heart is ready to play — isn’t that the name of the game?

Big Changes for the 2019/20 School Year: ECGs for Student Athletes in Florida and Texas
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