Two years ago, the Pennsylvania legislature enacted — and Governor Tom Corbett signed — a well-intended law, championed by the parents of an infant who died of a previously undetected heart disorder at the 14 weeks old in 2004.
However, the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Prevention Act has been another example of the law of unintended consequences because it mandates the sidelining of any athlete with any symptom of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). Those include fainting, dizziness, difficulty breathing and a rapid heart beat in addition to chest pain. To return to play, the athlete needs a written release from a physician trained in the evaluation and management of SCA.
However, many if not all the above-listed symptoms can be caused by far more benign conditions than impending SCA. Still, Pennsylvania athletes are compelled to see a physician — often a pediatric cardiologist — even if there is a simple explanation for that dizziness, such as neglecting to eat breakfast prior to an early-morning practice.
In late 2012, similar bills were introduced in Illinois and Indiana. Illinois passed a law early last year, but only after it had been gutted of anything resembling the one in Pennsylvania. The IHSA is required to post an educational video regarding SCA on its website and schools are required to notify parents and staff members of the video’s existence.
Meanwhile in Indiana, the original bill languished but was resurrected in the 2013-14 session by Rep. Ron Bacon (R-Evansville). From introduction to passage to signature last month by Governor Mike Pence, House Enrolled Act 1290 evolved into a creature somewhat more complicated, but at the same time less onerous than Pennsylvania’s law.
Its first provision changes the status of athletic trainers in Indiana on July 1 of this year from health care “professionals” to health care “providers,” elevating them in the eyes of Indiana law to the same level as physical therapists, physicians and occupational therapists, among others.
The second section requires, as of July 1, 2015, that all high schools to provide instruction in CPR and the use of an AED to all students before graduation. The law does not compel certification, but if the school offers certification, then the course must be taught by the American Heart Association or American Red Cross.
Finally, also as of July 1, 2015, the bill mandates provision of an information sheet regarding SCA to all athletes and parents of those under age 18. Those receiving the sheet must sign a form acknowledging its receipt.
Any athlete who then “is suspected of experiencing a symptom of (SCA) ... shall be removed from practice or play.” However, unlike the Pennsylvania law, no specific symptoms are listed. Furthermore, this version requires only a release from a parent — not a physician — of a high school or younger student. On the other hand, the bill does not prevent a school from insisting on a physician’s release in a specific case. For collegians, the release must come from an athletic trainer or physician.
It is a lot for schools to digest and implement. But at least they have more than a year to do it, unlike the new concussion law outlined here last week and going into effect in just two months.