Taking Student Health to Heart

When heart screenings are talked about, often it’s in relation to adults. But increasingly, there has been a push to make those screenings happen even earlier — in the teen years.

The NCAA has mandated it for its student athletes, and there have been many efforts to make sure high school athletes are screened for any cardiac anomalies. But at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Kaufman, a new effort is emerging to screen any high school student.

According to the American Heart Association, a little more than 1,300 high school and college-age students die of cardiovascular issues each year. In addition, 76 student athletes die of cardiovascular issues each year.

And those issues can cause sudden cardiac arrest. While the majority of high schoolers are healthy, a cardiac screening can flag potential problems.

Hitting closer to home, heart health statistics for Kaufman County are consistently described as being below the national average. And that’s a description the community is committed to addressing and rectifying.

“In Kaufman County, we have an average of 247.8 heart disease-related deaths per 100,000 people every year. That’s about twice the national average,” said Dr. Shashank Dengle, a cardiologist on the medical staff at Texas Health Kaufman.

“For some teenagers, high school can be a stressful time.” Dengle said. “If we can provide them with some sort of peace of mind, or facilitate next steps to address cardiac abnormalities, we need to do what we can to make that happen.”

Texas Health Kaufman responded to the needs of the community by instituting a heart-health initiative through education outreach.

Using funds from last year’s Black Tie Ball, an annual fundraiser held by the hospital’s foundation, Texas Health Kaufman was able to purchase CardeaScreen equipment. CardeaScreen is, according to the manufacturer, a hand-held ECG system designed to be portable, accurate and reduce false positives.

According to Ajith Pai, professional and support services officer and director of pharmacy at Texas Health Kaufman, the equipment provides more reliable results than the standard EKG for students ages 14 to 18.

“We are providing the service free of charge,” he added.

During a recent screening at Kaufman High School, 15-year-old freshman Clacie Terry said she was participating because she “just wanted to make sure” she was OK, even though she was fairly certain she was.

Each exam takes about five minutes after participants fill out a short questionnaire and provide parental permission to participate. If an abnormality is found, they will be given information on how to follow up.

If the student doesn’t have a cardiologist or can’t afford to see one, Pai and his team will work with physicians in the hospital’s network to get that follow-up. “We can assess whether it’s a false positive or help them get the care they need. We take that extra step to make sure they are OK.”

Screenings have taken place so far at Kaufman High School, Mabank High School, Texas Health Kaufman and ABOX Packaging Company. Additional screenings have been planned throughout the year.

If you are interested in a cardiac screening for your child and live in the Kaufman area, contact 972-932-7259. If you are looking for a pediatrician or cardiologist, it’s as easy as going to Texas Health Resources’ physician finder or calling 1-877-THR-WELL.

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