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Eustace Stresses Need for Cardiac Screening for Young People

New Jersey already requires cardiac screening for student athletes; lawmaker wants to require cardiac screenings for all 8th graders to help detect cardiac disorders early & save lives

(TRENTON) – Assemblyman Tim Eustace (D-Bergen/Passaic) is emphasizing the need for cardiac screenings for young people to help detect underlying heart conditions that can lead to death, after a young football player from the Bronx collapsed and died during a football practice.

“This is a parent’s worst nightmare,” said Eustace of the untimely death of 14-year-old Dominick Bess. “This young man’s life was tragically cut short. No child deserves that fate.”

Bess likely died of cardiac arrest, according to a media report.

New Jersey already requires cardiac screening for student athletes. Eustace is sponsoring a bill that would require the same cardiac screening for all 8th graders in public and nonpublic schools.

Eustace’s bill was inspired by Sean Fisher, a 13-year old football player from Waldwick, NJ who died in 2008 from an undiagnosed heart condition. Like Bess, Fisher was participating in a football practice when he suddenly collapsed. His family now provides free screenings to high school freshmen in Waldwick and Paramus through the Sean Fisher Memorial Foundation.

The death of another seemingly healthy teen underlines the urgent need for more expansive cardiac screening, said Eustace. “Both these boys died before they could make it to high school. If screening and early detection can help prevent these tragedies, why not do it?” asked Eustace.

Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart suddenly stops pumping blood to the rest of the body. It is fatal within minutes without immediate treatment. It is the leading cause of non-traumatic sudden death in children and young adults and usually is the result of an undiagnosed cardiovascular disorder.

According to Parent Heart Watch, a national advocacy organization, sudden cardiac arrest is the No. 1 killer of student athletes and the No. 2 medical cause of death among youth under 25.

“While much focus has been placed on student athletes, the threat of an underlying cardiovascular condition is not limited to young people who play sports,” said Eustace.

“Many people don’t know they have a heart condition until it is too late. You can’t take preventive measures for an ailment you don’t know you have. These screenings can help detect abnormalities early and allows students and parents to take the necessary precautions,” he added.

Under current law and State Board of Education regulations, a school district and nonpublic school require that prior to the participation of any student enrolled in grades six through 12 on a school-sponsored interscholastic or intramural athletic team or squad, the student must have a physical examination using the “Pre-participation Physical Evaluation” form. The law specifies that the physician, advanced practice nurse, or physician assistant who conducts the physical must have completed a Student-Athlete Cardiac Screening professional development module to increase the assessment skills of those health care practitioners. That training module emphasizes the ability to recognize and identify symptoms of cardiac disease and cardiac abnormalities among students.

Eustace’s bill (A-5091) would require a physical examination using the “Pre-participation Physical Evaluation” form for every student enrolled in grade eight in a public or nonpublic school.

Because districts already have this form, the cost associated with the bill is insignificant.

The licensed physician, advanced practice nurse, or physician assistant who performs the exam would have to sign the form’s certification statement attesting to the completion of the professional development module developed pursuant to current law. The school would retain the original signed statement to attest to the qualifications of the health care practitioner to perform the exam.

Sen. Bob Gordon (D-Bergen/Passaic) will introduce a companion bill in the Senate.

“Many of the children who died from SCA were seemingly healthy. That is why early detection is vital. Unlike the other leading causes of death among young people, cardiac arrest is preventable. Let’s give these children the chance to grow and live full lives,” said Eustace.

The bill was introduced on July 13 and has been referred to the Assembly Education Committee.