PARKERSBURG - Area educators, administrators and physicians gathered in the Charleston Ball Room at the Blennerhassett Hotel Wednesday to hear a sudden cardiac death presentation.
The presentation pointed out the high cost of providing an electrocardiogram to every student athlete, instead focusing on having automated external defibrillators and CPR trained personnel available as a means of preventing cases of sudden death in student athletes.
The event was presented by Dr. John R. Phillips, associate professor and section chief of pediatric cardiology at West Virginia University. Phillips spoke about the dangers of difficult-to-diagnose congenital heart disease in young students and athletes.
Photo by Gretchen Richards.
Drs. David Gnegy and Chris Miller, cardiologists with Camden Clark Medical Center, stand beside the CCMC sign with guest speaker Dr. John Phillips from pediatric cardiology at West Virginia University Wednesday night. Phillips stressed the need for AED devices and proper CPR training to prevent sudden heart failure cases in student athletes.
With several cases of sudden cardiac death affecting student athletes in the Mid-Ohio Valley this year, the presentation topic struck close to home with the crowd of more than 30 educators, administrators and physicians.
The presentation was part of a community outreach program through Camden Clark Medical Center and its partnership with WVU as one of eight outreach centers of cardiac care in West Virginia.
Congenital heart disease has nine rare conditions that are associated with the sudden deaths of seemingly healthy student athletes, said Phillips.
Although an EKG test is capable of catching several of these rare heart conditions, the EKG alone is not a viable tool for catching all of these congenital heart problems in young athletes before they take to the field, said Phillips.
"EKG prescreening of every student is expensive, and has many false positives that only cause undue stress on families," said Phillips. "When combined with a cardiologist's review of the EKG, an in-depth physical exam, and complete family history, it is more useful, but becomes a financial problem for the average family," he said.
The EKG screening of every student athlete in America would cost in excess of $50 billion, said Phillips. "For that amount of money, we could fully immunize every student in America for free, put an AED in every school, pay for the annual upkeep of those devices, and add nutritional therapy and obesity education for every student," he said.
Every student athlete should have an EKG at least once every three years to detect the early onset of heart problems, said Phillips. However, the average pediatrician or family doctor may not know how to properly read the EKG results, which can result in early symptoms being overlooked, he said.
Instead of focusing on the high expense of pre-screening every student, schools should concentrate on "having an AED device within a minute's brisk walk of any position in the school," said Phillips.
These AEDs are easy to operate, with simple instructions printed on the device itself, said Phillips.
Having an AED within easy reach of every educator is a greater problem than simply having the devices in place in the schools, said Phillips. Schools have been known to keep AEDs inside locked offices, on the wrong side of crowd control gates, and too far away from the most likely place they will be used for cases of sudden cardiac death caused in the public: the gymnasium, said Phillips.
"It's great that you have an AED at your school," said Phillips. "Unless you can get to it in an emergency or after hours when the school's facilities are being used by adult leagues or school games, it isn't going to do anyone any good," he said.
It is equally important that the AED be properly maintained, and that average school personnel know how to use the device, said Phillips.
The AED should be in a place that can be easily accessed, and out of its original plastic wrapping, said Phillips. The batteries should be installed, and checked once a year, he said. The shock paddles in each device have a printed expiration date, and should be replaced before that date arrives, he said.
"Most importantly, people need to know that these automated devices will not deliver a shock to someone unless it reads that their heart rate requires the shock," said Phillips. "These devices are so safe that I can let my 10-year-old play with one, with a 100 percent certainty that he will never be able to shock himself, regardless of what he does with it," he said.
The semi-automated version of the external defibrillator causes some problems, said Phillips. Although it will only advise shocking someone when the shock is necessary, and only activate its shock button when it is needed, someone must physically push the button to make the shock happen, said Phillips.
"One of the biggest problems we have is that no one wants to be the person to hit the button and send that many volts through someone else's child," said Phillips. "Please, if you are operating an AED or a semi-AED and it says a shock is necessary, don't turn off the machine. Hit the button and save the person's life," he said.
Every school in Wood County is equipped with AED units, said Phillips. "It is important that every educator know how to work these devices, and know how to perform CPR, in order to keep our students safe," he said.
Training in CPR and AED operation is available for free four times a year through the Regional Education Service Agency 5, said Joyce Cooper, school nurse at Jackson Middle School.