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Pennsylvania Bill Aims to Reduce Youth Sudden Cardiac Arrest

11 Dec, 2019

By: Michael Popke

When the National Athletic Trainers’ Association reported in June that cardiac events are the most common cause of death in youth athletes, it might have prompted some states to take action.

A bill moving through the Pennsylvania Legislature seeks to educate student-athletes and their parents about the underlying heart conditions that can lead to sudden cardiac arrest by providing them with information about electrocardiogram (EKG) testing and the option to request an EKG along with the standard sports physical.

The Senate passed the bill in late October, and it is currently in the House of Representatives. If the bill becomes law, the state’s Department of Education would be required to post on its website information about EKG testing and give students the option to request the “administration of an electrocardiogram, in addition to the comprehensive initial preparticipation physical examination,” according to the York Daily Record.

Senate Bill 836 is named Peyton’s Law, after Peyton Walker, a graduate of Trinity High School in Camp Hill who died in 2013 of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) at the age of 19. Her mother, Julie Walker established The Peyton Walker Foundation, which advocates for the use of EKG testing to screen for underlying electrical issues in the heart that can lead to sudden cardiac arrest. The foundation conducts free EKG screening events at schools across Pennsylvania and has screened several thousand students, according to the Pennsylvania State Senate’s description of the bill.

“[This bill] is a vital step in our journey to save more young lives,” Julie Walker said in a statement. “We know that information is power, and if parents and guardians are alerted to the fact that baseline heart screenings can detect their child’s potential risks for SCA, we believe schools should be required to present that life-saving information to families.”

But EKGs can be expensive, and they aren’t always foolproof.

“This issue is you are trying to catch a rare entity across a population that is typically the healthiest,” Peter Barclay, a cardiologist at WellSpan in York, Pa., told the York Daily Record in May. “When you cast such a wide net and the testing isn’t perfect, you will read things on an EKG that seem abnormal but end up unnecessarily eliminating kids from participating.”

Barclay added that WellSpan, an integrated health system in Pennsylvania, implemented a program funded by grants for student-athletes “interested” in voluntary EKG tests.

In July, Texas Gov. Gregg Abbot signed “Cody’s Law,” a bill similar to the proposed “Peyton’s Law.” The law took effect this fall and gives every student-athlete in the state the option of having an EKG heart screening as part of his or her athletic physical.

“Cody’s Law” is named after Cody Stephens, a 6-foot-9 offensive lineman who was set to play at Tarleton State University on a football scholarship when he died at home from sudden cardiac arrest due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a cardiovascular disease in one of his heart chambers.

“AEDs are life savers, but they’re reactive, and I’m looking for preventative, proactive action,” Cody’s father, Scott Stephens, told the Houston Chronicle“Cody died at home. You don’t stop being a student-athlete when you go home to take a nap. We don’t have AEDs in our home, so although AEDs are [a] wonderful tool, I want to find these kids before their [cardiac] arrests potentially occur.”

Like Peyton Walker, Cody Williams also has a website dedicated to preventing more tragedies.

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