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Ounce of prevention: District to screen athletes for heart disease

By Richard Greene | Published Saturday, February 16, 2019
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Caring Heart

CARING HEART – Behind the effort of Boyd Intermediate/Middle School nurse Whitney Lamance, Boyd ISD is teaming with the Cody Stephens Go Big or Go Home Foundation to provide ECGs for athletes and other extracurricular participants April 16. Messenger photo by Richard Greene

In the fall, Whitney Lamance’s mother saw a story on the news about a school giving students in extracurricular activities electrocardiogram and couldn’t wait to share the information with her only daughter.

“She was so excited. She said, ‘It’s what you’ve been looking for!'” Lamance recalled.

A few months later through Lamance’s diligent work and the help of the Cody Stephens Go Big or Go Home Foundation every Boyd athlete, cheerleader and band member between sixth and 12th grades will have the opportunity to receive a free electrocardiogram (ECGs) April 16 at Boyd High School. Boyd ISD staff members and other students can also get the cardiovascular screening performed for $20.

“I’ve always prayed for an opportunity like this,” said Lamance, the Boyd Intermediate/Middle School nurse. “This is a true blessing.”

An ECG is a medical test that detects heart problems by measuring the electrical activity generated by the heart as it contracts.

Throughout her career in the medical field that included working as a medic and also as an emergency room nurse, Lamance had seen the impact of cardiovascular and heart disease. The impact hit close to home more than a decade ago when her father was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, in which the heart becomes enlarged and cannot pump blood effectively.

“My dad was 46 when he was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, and he didn’t have any symptoms,” Lamance explained. “He just went to get a physical done for a life insurance policy and had an EKG and that’s when they discovered it. That is where it really got personal for me.”

Her father received a pacemaker and remains healthy.

But with a family history, she had ECGs performed on her own children during elementary school, middle school and also as her oldest moved into high school.

“They recommend the first one before they start school sports. We did the first one in the second grade. The [test] in second grade is before puberty. That’s when a lot of abnormalities can show up,” Lamance said.

Lamance, a Boyd native, added it gave her peace of mind, and she wanted that for all her students when she became a school nurse three years ago.

“I feel like all these kids are my kids,” she said.

After her mother saw the story, Lamance reached out to the Cody Stephens Go Big or Go Home Foundation in Crosby. The foundation was founded by Scott Stephens after his son Cody died May 6, 2012. A few weeks shy of graduating, the 6-9 nearly 300-pound college-bound lineman laid down to take a nap on a Sunday afternoon and never woke up.

Scott Stephens said his son died of sudden cardiac arrest.

“We had no reason to suspect a problem,” he said.

Stephens said he learned around the time of his son’s death that a neighboring school district had screened athletes and detected a heart condition in one of its students.

Starting with the proceeds from the sale of Cody’s grand champion pig, Stephens began the foundation in his son’s name with a goal of providing ECGs for athletes and other students involved in extracurricular events throughout the state.

Since 2012, the foundation has raised more than $1.5 million and provided ECGs to thousands of students at 240 schools for little or no cost.

“We know of 95 kids that have had heart surgery as a result of something that was found during the test,” Stephens said. “In one of 900 or 1.5 percent, there’s something found that they should be aware of.”

This legislative session, House Bill 76 would require students to receive an ECG before participating in UIL events. Stephens said it would put the decision in parents’ hands, with the ability to opt out for any reason. It is his sixth try to get the legislation passed.

“We believe it works,” he said.

On April 16, the foundation will provide the equipment and facilitators for the tests. The tests will be sent to a cardiologist in the Houston area for review. He will send his findings back to Lamance.

Students will be put into one of three categories – low risk, follow up needed or high risk. Students in the middle category will be allowed to continue participation in activities but are encouraged to follow up with their physician within three months. Students in the high-risk category will not be allowed to participate in their activities until cleared by a physician.

“We can know there’s something going on and pull them from sports and that right there decreases their risk for sudden cardiac death,” Lamance said. “That’s what we are wanting to do. We want to be proactive and protect our students in any way we can.”

Before moving ahead with the screening, Lamance met with the Student Health Advisory Council and Boyd ISD Superintendent Ted West. Both gave overwhelming approval.

“It was probably the easiest decision all year to move forward with,” West said. “An opportunity to keep kids safe with that specific test at no- or low-cost was a no-brainer decision.”

While covering the costs for the first year, the Cody Stephens Go Big or Go Home Foundation requests districts commit to carrying on the program in subsequent years at $20 per test for incoming seventh, ninth and 11th graders involved in extracurricular programs.

West said he expects the district or an organization affiliated with the school to help with the costs.

“It’s something we will discuss with the board and see if we want to budget for it or if a booster club might pay for it,” West said. “I’m sure we can find some funding to provide this service to our students for a low cost or no cost.”

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