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Texas Heart Institute to test kids for heart conditions

Friday, July 22, 2011

Every year we see the stories of the tragic and sudden deaths of healthy young athletes, often on the playing field. Now, Houston heart specialists are offering middle school kids something phenomenal: a free MRI to check their hearts.

High school football player Chris Pichon was only 14 when he dropped to his knees and died. Kailynn Bioclair of Hitchcock was only 13 when she died on the basketball court. In Orange, Texas, high school quarterback Reggie Garret had just thrown a touchdown pass when he collapsed and later died. And who can forget the game winning basket by Michigan player Wes Leonard, who then collapsed and died.

All had lethal heart problems, but Houston experts say there's a way to keep kids like these from dying.

"We can detect these abnormalities and prevent sudden death in a significant number of children," Dr. Jim Willerson said.

To prove it, Texas Heart Institute will test 10,000 middle school students and it's using an MRI to look for lethal heart problems. An MRI finds the four most common abnormalities that kill young athletes.

"It was easy," Fort Bend ISD sixth grade student Conner Kozak said.

They have done 800 of these MRI screenings on middle school students and they believe it will be so successful at preventing the sudden death of children that they want to make it available nationally to all children, not just the athletes.

They've found eight or nine children with abnormalities so far. Some may need surgery or a defibrillator. Others will be told to change sports.

"We say it's not safe to compete or to exercise vigorously, so we want you maybe to be a golfer," Dr. Willerson said.

Finally, catching these deadly heart problems before it's too late.

The Texas Heart Study Sudden Cardiac Death Study which includes an MRI scan, is free and open to all sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students in our area.

You can enroll your child by email or phone. The phone is 713-218-2112. They tell us it may take a little longer by phone, but they will contact you.

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