Simple heart screenings can save young lives

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- When it comes to heart disease and sudden cardiac arrest, chances are you don't think about young athletes. Sharon Bates and cardiologist Dr. Jeffrey Pakula say you should.

"Heart disease doesn't start when you're 50," Bates explained. "In many cases, it starts when you're born."

Bates knows first-hand how heart disease can affect young, seemingly healthy people. Her 20-year-old son, a college football player who was the picture of health, died of a heart attack 12 years ago. Dozens of student athletes have died since then.

"Every three days, another 'perfectly healthy' child athlete dies from sudden cardiac arrest while playing sports, marching with the band, or even following physical education class," Bates explained. "It's heart-wrenching every time I hear another story about it."

A simple cardiac screening can go a long way in preventing those deaths. To that end, Bates created the Anthony Bates Foundation, which is sponsoring free heart screenings for 500 Arizona student athletes between the ages of 12 and 22.

Bates said the symptoms of potential cardiac problems -- shortness of breath, heart palpitations, racing heart, dizziness, fainting, and chest pains -- are both easily recognizable and often misinterpreted.

"In the 11 years of conducting free screenings, consistently, one out of 10 student athletes are found with a detectable, serious, treatable heart condition," she said.

"The problem with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), like Anthony had, is there really are no symptoms," Pakula explained. "The physiologic state of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is worse when the heart is working heard -- when you're in athletic performance and when you're dehydrated. That combination is what's deadly."

While potentially deadly, HCM, which is the leading killer of young athletes, is also treatable.

"Most of the kids can even continue to participate in sports," Pakula said. "If they're screened appropriately, they can be treated."

The Anthony Bates Foundation is hosting a free heart screening event this weekend. Student athletes will receive an echocardiogram (ultrasound) and an electrocardiogram (EKG), tests costing a total of about $2,100, as well as a physician's review.

"They get knowledge of their heart health at that moment," Bates said.

While the tests are free, donations are appreciated to keep the program running and help save young lives.

Appointments are required and there are a limited number of slots available.

For more information, call 602-482-5606 or visit