LAPORTE | On September 25 our community suffered a terrible loss with the death of Jake West, a La Porte High School football player. Many individuals who knew Jake, including friends, teammates, coaches and medical personnel were left with tremendous questions over why, how and what had happened to him that day. After it was publicly announced that his death was due to a heart condition, the cardiology and sports medicine teams of Indiana University Health La Porte Hospital made a joint decision to organize community cardiac screenings for high school students. Although this is not medically recognized as standard of care in athletes, the concern and scars left among the community made it necessary to take action. Through the help of the media and high school officials, the cardiology department was able to fill nearly 300 spots for free echocardiogram and electrocardiogram screenings for high school students in less than a week after announcing the screenings.
The screenings performed included electrocardiograms (EKGs) and Limited Echocardiograms, targeting views of the heart that would give the most information related to causes of sudden cardiac death in athletes. We utilized documented protocols when performing EKGs and echocardiograms in athletes as well the help of the IU Health program in Indianapolis called “Echos for Athletes.” In a span of 16 days, 280 high school students were screened at no charge at the IU Health La Porte Heart & Vascular Center. Numerous cardiology and sports medicine staff totaled well over 350 volunteer hours to see this process through to completion. Dr. Rishi Sukhija graciously read all of the screening electrocardiograms and limited echocardiograms. He also provided on-site additional training of cardiology staff prior to, and during the screenings. I, myself, consulted parents and students with abnormal studies “closing the loop” and assisting with all of the follow-up care and referrals.
Research indicates that parents and students experience emotional stress during the time period when test results are pending. In response to this, the follow-up process was modified midway through the screenings. Athletes were offered follow-up appointments, repeat EKGs and/or complete echocardiograms within 24 hours of screening when indicated. After completing further cardiac work through IU Health La Porte Hospital, the pediatric cardiology staff of Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health read the full pediatric echocardiograms, and also saw the students as appropriate. The process of communication of results and follow-up among all departments and providers was continually evaluated based on valuable feedback from athletes and parents.
In total, 20 high school students screened were initially found to be abnormal. Consistent with athlete cardiac screenings, 80 percent of these abnormal results ended up being false positives, which is one reason why screening is not mandated in the United States. However, four students are still being evaluated or in treatment for their found cardiac condition by pediatric cardiology and at least one student will be undergoing open heart surgery in the next 12 months.