Sudden cardiac arrest is the leading medical cause of death of student athletes in the United States. Despite this alarming statistic, there is little being done to prevent it. Most measures do not require much effort or funding.

Pre-Participation Sports Physicals. Each state requires a student athlete to undergo a sports physical. However, the specifics of the physical vary greatly. This practice is very important; it is also incomplete. Asking a student questions and performing a basic exam may be sufficient for certain conditions, but it is not the best way to detect heart conditions (see above).

Sudden Cardiac Arrest Prevention Act. In 2012, Simon’s Heart passed the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Prevention Act to raise awareness among student athletes, parents and coaches about the risks and warning signs of cardiac arrest. The Act requires (1) parents to read and sign a form; (2) coaches to watch a training video; and (3) coaches to remove players who are symptomatic so they can be cleared by a licensed medical professional. The Act has been passed in fifteen states and reaches over 2,000,000 student athletes.

Cardiac Emergency Response Plan.  Every coach has a playbook. Every coach tries to make sure the team is prepared for games. Coaches can also be ready for sudden cardiac arrest. This document ensures the team has access to the right equipment and the people have been assigned a role. It’s literally a game plan.

Learn Hands-Only CPR (or chest compressions). If you’re reading this page, you’re interested in youth athletics, so there’s a pretty good chance you can do one of the following with your hands: throw, catch, dribble or swing. This is another hand activity – push.  Every student on the team should know how to perform a chest compression in case someone on the team or in the stands collapses from sudden cardiac arrest. It’s really easy to do.

Get an AED Device.  When your car dies, what do you need to start it? A jump. The heart needs the same thing and the only tool that works is an automated external defibrillator. This smart device costs under $1,000. It evaluates the heart rhythm and determines if it needs to deliver a shock. If you don’t have one, you’ll have to wait for the first responders to arrive. Every minute it takes to get an AED, the chance of survival goes down by 10%. Is there one where your kids learn and play?

Youth Heart Screenings.  Would a NASCAR driver ever race without having the engine checked? Would an NBA team ever draft a player without examining the heart? No. Our children should receive the same standard of care. Heart screenings are not required in any state and the screening varies depending on the provider. They all provide an electrocardiogram (ECG). From there, other things may be evaluated like blood pressure, height, weight, medical history, family history and echocardiogram. The more thorough the exam, the more you learn about the child’s heart. However, more thorough also means more costly. As such, the “best practice” is still unknown. The current practice (or standard of care) is asking the student a few questions and listening to the heart with a stethoscope. Research shows that this method is not the most effective. The fact that sudden cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death of student athletes does too.

Hire an Athletic Trainer.  This medical professional is trained to manage and treat injuries sustained by athletes. It is always safer to have an expert on your team’s bench. Most coaches are volunteers and do not possess the skills or training to deal with medical issues or emergencies. Click here for more information about athletic trainers.