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(TRENTON) — A two bill package Assemblyman Patrick J. Diegnan, Jr., and Assemblywomen Bonnie Watson Coleman and Elease Evans sponsored to develop an information campaign about a specific type of heart disease – hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) – and improve school preparedness for responding to incidents of sudden cardiac arrest was approved Monday by the General Assembly.

“HCM is widely recognized as one of the leading causes of sudden death in student athletes,” said Diegnan (D-Middlesex), the panel’s chairman. “Our goal is to raise awareness in teachers, coaches parents and students of how this disease develops, the warning sings to look for and what to do if diagnosed.”

HCM is the most common genetic cardiovascular disease, occurring in one out of every 500 people. It causes a thickening of the muscle of the heart, most commonly at the septum between the ventricles, below the aortic valve. The unusually thick heart muscle stiffens the walls of the heart and causes abnormal aortic and mitral valve function, which can impede normal blood flow out of the heart. While the disease is usually asymptomatic until sudden cardiac death, it can be detected with a very high degree of accuracy through electrocardiography (EKG) or echocardiogram.

According to the sponsors, the need for legislation increasing the awareness of HCM became apparent after the abrupt collapse and death of Edison High School football star Kittim Sherrod more than a year ago. Sherrod had been on a training run when, at the corner of Mercury and Vineyard roads in Edison, he collapsed and died of HCM.

“Student athletes are taking the right steps to live a healthy life through exercise,” Said Watson Coleman (D-Mercer). “However, precautions need to be taken so that their lives are not cut short by silent killers, like HCM.”

The first bill (A-2744) would require the state Department of Education (DOE), with help from the state Department of Health and Senior Services, the American Heart Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, to develop a program that provides information regarding HCM. School districts would be required to provide the information to all students, their parents and coaches. Coaches also would be required to provide student athletes with information on private HCM screening options.

Additionally, the measure would expand the role and membership of the New Jersey Student Athlete Cardiac Screening Task Force. Currently, the eight-member task force studies, evaluates and makes recommendations relating to measures that may be taken to enhance screening of student athletes for cardiac conditions. Under this bill, the task force would be expanded to include three additional members, chosen from members of the Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Association, the coach of a high school athletic team, the parent or guardian of a child who has been diagnosed with or died from HCM and the Athletic Trainers’ Society of New Jersey. The scope of the task force would be expanded to include a review of and suggested updates to the DOE’s annual athletic pre-participation physical examination form. The Assembly passed the measure by a vote of 79-1.

“The more student athletes and their parents know about the dangers of heart disease, the more chance they have of being tested and finding a potential problem before it becomes a full blown tragedy,” said Evans (D-Passaic). “When it comes to heart disease, early detection saves lives.”

The second bill (AR-84), would urge all boards of education in New Jersey to take precautionary measures to protect students and staff from sudden cardiac death through:

  • The installation of an automated external defibrillator in every school;
  • The training of staff on the appropriate use of defibrillators;
  • The development of an emergency action response plan for each school that addresses the appropriate use of school staff in responding to cardiac arrest and similar health crises on school grounds; and
  • The implementation of a CPR training program for all students and staff.

“In a cardiac crisis, every second is critical and the smallest delay in treatment could literally mean the difference between life and death,” said Diegnan. “Improving awareness of potential cardiac diseases and teaching school staff and students how to react to such crises will undoubtedly save lives.”

The measure passed the Assembly by a vote of 80-0.

The bill package now heads to the Senate for further consideration.

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