Imagine you’ve got this cute little puppy nipping at your heels, greeting you at the door every time you come home and is so enthusiastic he can barely contain himself. Now imagine he is gone suddenly and won’t return. Josh’s mom, Deb, knows that feeling. Josh won’t return, the energy went with him and the family will forever suffer his profound loss. Here’s the thing, Josh could still be here if electrocardiograms were part of an athlete’s physical exam, but they aren’t.
Why the heck not? Eye exams, which range from $50 to more than $100, are offered. Hearing tests? Up to $250. Dental cleaning? ~$200. The fluoride treatments that are offered for free at schools? $75. Flu shot? $31.99. Remember, these are things that you may need more than once, annually or bi-annually. Some of those prices are a little steep, aren’t they? Think about this, the heart is the most important organ in your body. How much is it worth to you? I have found the costs quoted as anywhere from $500 to $2,000. Is that too much to save a life? A child dies every 3-4 days from Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA), they don’t have to. An ECG can detect up to 60% of the conditions that cause SCA.
This subject is pretty new to me so I am still wrapping my brain around it. We test adults for heart problems – I had an ECG and a stress test myself a few years back – my siblings had heart attacks and I have a family history of heart disease. So I asked my doctor, she signed me up immediately, no questions asked. Now, go to your doctor and ask for the same test for your child. More than likely, they will tell you the child is too young to worry, that they have no symptoms and they are perfectly healthy. Yikes! Age discrimination flag waving over here! Frankly, they are younger and have their whole lives ahead of them, wouldn’t the screening be more important now than when they are 50? I’m a lot less active now than I was when I was a kid, my heart can take it. My son runs 3 miles in 21 minutes, how do I know his heart can take it? Wait…I think I know the answer….screening!! Yes!
Genetic testing is also a proactive way to save your child. Many families receive genetic testing and ECGs, after a child in their family has died of SCA. Why wait? Why not provide all of this up front? Are your eyes, ears and teeth more important than your heart? Luckily, word is getting out – your heart is more important. With the help of Parent Heart Watch, The Josh Thibodeau Helping Hearts Foundation is not only educating people about this tragedy, changing the law and pushing for Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs), they are providing screening for children. Their foundation isn’t the only one like this, there are many throughout the country made up of parents who have lost children and parents whose children have survived because there was an AED handy.
From what I’ve read and heard, if an AED is administered within the first 3-5 minutes of the episode, a survival rate of 75% can be achieved. 75% of the children would not have to die. Josh’s field didn’t have an AED. For every minute that passed, his chance of survival decreased by 10%. By the time EMS had arrived on the scene from the fire station across the street, it was too late. 6-10 minutes to arrive on scene. 90% of all children die before help arrives. What if there had been an AED on site? AEDs require a moderate amount of training – they are easy enough to use that a 6th grader can administer the help needed if he has been trained properly. When most of these incidents occur, coaches are present and the stands are full of parents, they can administer the AED. So what’s the problem?
There aren’t many AEDs in circulation. Money and training are two factors. Who is going to pay for the training and the equipment? While each state is different, New Jersey is in the process of passing the Eustace, Jasey and Caride Bill which requires all coaches to be CPR certified and establishes protocol for distribution of information and responses to medical emergencies. Legislation has been filed in Kentucky to provide CPR training and AED awareness training to every high school student. Do you know what your state is doing to address this deadly situation that commonly affects athletes in public places? More education = more likelihood of survival. Think about it. Do you know CPR? Could you recognize the signs of coronary distress in your child?
On the positive side, children are being saved. There are AEDs available at some schools and sports venues. People are taking notice. But not enough. I urge you to take a look at The Josh Thibodeau Helping Hearts Foundation and Parent Heart Watch pages. Like them on Facebook, stay informed. They have so much great information on their pages, stuff I cannot possibly squeeze into this post. This is a very important topic, please understand that. Don’t wait until your child or someone you know is affected by it. Ask for an ECG, review your family history or if anything seems amiss with your child when he/she is exercising, discuss it with your doctor. You are the parent, you know best. Will the doctor or insurance company be with you when you are up nights looking through old photo albums trying to recapture the spirit of your lost child? I don’t think so. If you hit a brick wall and become really desperate, find a local organization that provides screening by clicking this link. You don’t want to wonder if you did enough. Don’t think it could happen to you? That’s what Ann thought until she found out Patrick was sick. He was saved. Though Ann and Deb are friends, their families suffered different fates all because of a simple test.
Speaking of families, check out the Human of the Week to you can learn a little bit about Josh’s family. See how much alike you are, see that it could be you. Act.
I am not a medical professional, the information provided in this article is not meant to provide medical advice and/or be provided as a guide to child-rearing. The information is presented to the best of my knowledge. Please use your best judgement, not mine, to care for your children as you see fit. This information is not meant to discredit any medical, education or athletic organizations.