In the United States, a young competitive athlete dies every three days due to sudden cardiac death, and often the cause is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). This fatal condition can go undiagnosed through physicals. Heart screens, however, can show this condition or other heart defects before a fatality occurs.
The Louisiana Pediatric Cardiology Foundation (LPCF) is dedicated to helping children at the beginning of life and in the teen years by offering grants and free heart screens. The Foundation was created in 2001 when local doctors from the Pediatric Cardiology Association (PCA) noticed that children who required cardiovascular surgery had to leave the area for lifesaving procedures. Angelle Bourgeois, Director of Operations, explains, “Baton Rouge did not have a cardiovascular surgeon, so most kids had to go to Boston or New Orleans. Some of the families couldn’t afford to leave the area.” These trips came with non-covered medical costs like traveling, meals, lodging, and other financial burdens that families unexpectedly had to manage, so LPCF began to provide support to these families to ease the pressure.
LPCF provides family grants to be spent on those non-insured medical costs. “It’s not going to cover everything, but it’s a big help,” says Bourgeois. “Anybody with a child in such a situation can apply for our grant. We give $1,000 per surgery with a $2,500 max lifetime. It’s devastating for these families when they get the news. When they’re thrown into this situation, it’s draining both emotionally and financially. We hope that our grants help ease the burden.” The LPCF hosts an annual fundraiser called Helping Heal Little Hearts, which will be held August 17 at L’Auberge. Money raised covers the family grants as well as the costs of the free heart screens that LPCF provides for student athletes.
“Since 2012, we have screened over 6,800 athletes from both public and private schools with 4-5 percent of those requiring follow up appointments,” Bourgeois shares. The “Save a Heart. Save a Life.” program provides free heart screens for high school athletes to identify undetected abnormalities, specifically HCM, which is a thickening of the heart muscle. Devin Durdin, the Heart Screen and Fundraising Event Coordinator, calls schools and speaks with athletic directors about scheduling the heart screens. Durdin shares, “A school nurse told me that this was important because her school had two students who had to have heart surgery, and prior to the heart screen, they had no idea. I don’t think there are enough parents and coaches who are aware of how important it is.”
The heart screening team travels to schools to conduct the screenings, which include EKGs and ECHOs. Then, pediatric cardiologists from PCA read the screens. Durdin explains, “These are doctors who have another clinic, they have plenty going on, yet they are still taking the time to read these heart screens, and follow up with patients to help them if they’ve been diagnosed.” Individual athletes and smaller schools can also schedule heart screens through Durdin, “PCA can block out a time, and we’ll bring in each team. We can break it up by gender or sport to get more kids screened.”
“The heart screens appeal to the public because we all have athletes in our family. Heart screens touch everyone. It’s a gift. It’s free. Why would you say no? Even if they don’t find anything, the comfort of knowing your child does not have a heart defect or HCM is worth it,” says Bourgeois. The process is simple. The paperwork can be accessed online and brought to the screening or can be filled out there. The actual screen only takes 10-15 minutes.
LPCF is doing their part in supporting families and protecting teens. “We have created something that anyone can do. Wouldn’t it be great if this was implemented throughout the U.S.?” asks Bourgeois. Durdin shares the same passion and declares, “Parents and coaches need to be aware of the screens and make the time because it’s about teenagers’ hearts.” For more information, go to lpcf.com. ■