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Free Cardiac Screenings Offered for Young Athletes on Feb. 2

Free cardiac screenings for young athletes will be held on Saturday, Feb. 2 from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset (RWJUH), an RWJBarnabas Health facility. The screenings will be held in the hospital’s Somerset Family Practice,110 Rehill Avenue in Somerville.

The hospital has conducted the screenings annually for the past 10 years, screening more than 1000 young athletes.

RWJUH Somerset cardiologists, nurses and technicians will conduct the cardiac evaluations for children ages 14 to 18. The screenings will include a cardiovascular history and physical exam; blood pressure screening; body metrics; an electrocardiogram. In addition, an echocardiogram can be performed if indicated. Results will be given to students to share with their personal physicians.

The screenings look for major abnormalities known to cause sudden cardiac death (SCD), such as cardiac arrest. SCD is an unexpected death caused by ventricular fibrillation (an irregular heart rhythm from the lower chambers of the heart) and is almost always fatal. Sudden cardiac death affects an average of 1 in 100,000 student athletes nationwide each year.

“Young athletes are at an increased risk for suffering from SCD compared to their non-athlete peers. In fact, about 3,000 young people die from sudden cardiac arrest each year,” said Steven Georgeson, MD, cardiologist at RWJUH Somerset who is leading the screenings. “If a young athlete goes untested, the combination of physical exercise and an underlying heart disorder can trigger cardiac arrest or lead to potentially irreversible consequences.”

Razeenah Walker’s grandson, Kittim Sherrod, an Edison High School senior, collapsed during track practice on April 30, 2009 and died from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a genetic abnormality that produces irregular growth of the heart muscle which is the leading cause of cardiac death in people under 40.

“Sudden cardiac arrest can claim the lives of the most healthiest looking youth,” said Walker, who is president of the Kittim N. Sherrod Foundation, which supports research and awareness of sudden cardiac death. “I urge parents to take advantage of this opportunity to have free screenings for your loved ones. It will give you peace of mind as your children go forth with their dreams to play sports.”

Christopher Rutkowski of Middlesex brought his son, James, now 17, for the free cardiac screening at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset two years ago. Rutkowski’s father had passed away of a heart attack at the age of 47 and Rutkowski was concerned about a family history of heart disease. The screening showed that James, now a Middlesex High School senior and member of the track and field team, had elevated blood pressure.

After a follow up with James’ pediatrician, the Rutkowski family began making lifestyle changes to promote heart health.

“It prompted us to eat better around the house and exercise more,” said Christopher Rutkowski.

A parent or guardian must accompany each student to the cardiac screenings. Appointments are required and can be made by calling 908-685-2414. For more information, visit www.rwjbh.org/cardiacathleticscreening.