Teen athletes can be tested for potentially deadly problems




Posted on September 20, 2010 at 5:07 PM

Updated Monday, Sep 20 at 9:54 PM

Parents, listen up. If your child plays any kind of sports, we have a warning for you.

Thousands of North Texas youngsters are hitting the football fields, the basketball courts or soccer fields right now. But for some of them, there is a time bomb ticking inside, a potentially deadly defect.

On Friday, a Southeast Texas high school football quarterback threw a touchdown pass, then had a seizure as he walked off the field.

West Orange-Stark's Reggie Garrett died, even though an ambulance crew was right there to treat the 17-year-old.

Preliminary autopsy results revealed "no obvious cause" for Garrett's death. A more detailed report is expected later this week.

We do know that an estimated 10,000 young people die each year of sudden cardiac death, and that's what Karen Schrah is fighting to change.

Her 16-year-old son Zachary died of sudden cardiac arrest at a Plano East football practice in April 2009.

"It just proves that there's more work to be done... that we need to continue to push forward to raise awareness and get the word out," she said.

Getting the word out about sudden cardiac death is the goal of the organization she created called "Living for Zachary." The non-profit group has produced a video aimed at schools. And a partnership with the Baylor Heart Hospital in Plano provides discount heart tests for youth athletes.

"We can detect an awful lot with these non-invasive tests," said cardiologist Dr. Brian Deville, who noted that 14 percent of the 226 teens screened in the program's first year were referred to a specialist.

"I think we should be doing more," Deville said. "We have had patients who have gone on, finished their high school career, and then been found to have a problem and lose college scholarships — some of which were on issues that could absolutely have been cured had it been detected early enough."

If Zachary's hidden heart problem had been diagnosed, he would be graduating from Plano East High School this year.

His mother has this message for other parents: "To have their child screened. To have the test done," Schrah said.

E-mail jstjames@wfaa.com