Awareness of Sudden Cardiac Arrest in Schools

Screen Shot 2014-05-04 at 2.16.05 PMIn an effort to promote greater awareness of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) and the deadly effect it can have on children who otherwise seem healthy, the State Senate voted this week to approve legislation to raise awareness of the condition among parents, teachers and coaches.

Sudden Cardiac Arrest takes the lives of thousands of children every year, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates at least 2,000 such deaths occur annually.

“Student health must be our first priority at all school athletic events. Sudden cardiac arrest is immediate and often deadly. A small amount of time invested in learning about the condition and its warning signs could save many lives, and that is what this bill aims to do,” said State Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney (D-New Haven) in a release.

“It makes good sense to promote awareness of the warning signs of a deadly condition like sudden cardiac arrest. When parents and coaches know what to look for, they can keep an eye on the student athletes in their care and pull them from play as necessary. By preparing for the worst, we may be able to save many lives,” said Sen. Bob Duff (D-Norwalk) in a release.

“Sudden cardiac arrest can affect even the most accomplished young athletes, so it is very important that coaches and parents know the warning signs and remove students who exhibit them from play. Our community has already suffered a great loss to this disease, and we hope greater awareness will help prevent future tragedies. No family should have to go through such an ordeal unnecessarily,” said Sen. Carlo Leone (D-Stamford).

The National Institutes of Health define sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) as a condition in which the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating. If this happens, blood stops flowing to the brain and other vital organs. SCA can happen in people who appear healthy and have no known heart disease or other risk factors. Most people who have SCA die from it—often within minutes, though rapid treatment can be lifesaving.

The legislation, Senate Bill 229, will direct the State Board of Education, in conjunction with health experts, to develop a sudden cardiac arrest awareness program for use by local boards of education. The program must include information on:

• SCA warning signs and symptoms, including fainting, difficulty breathing, chest pain, dizziness and abnormal racing heart rate

• Risks of continued athletic activity after exhibiting SCA symptoms

• Means of obtaining treatment for a suspected occurrence of SCA

• Proper methods for returning students who experience SCA to athletics

The legislation will require school coaches to:

• Review the SCA awareness program each school year, beginning in 2015

• Immediately remove students from play who show symptoms of SCA

• Not permit students removed from play to return without the written clearance of a licensed healthcare professional

The legislation will create a consent form for parents of student athletes to sign on the warning signs, symptoms and treatment of SCA and relevant school policies

Similar legislation has already been adopted in Pennsylvania, where training for coaches consists of an online module that takes less than 10 minutes to complete. Several other states are also considering SCA bills, including: Michigan, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, Indiana, and Oklahoma.

Connecticut’s legislation was inspired in part by the tragic story of Andy Peña, a Darien student athlete who died of sudden cardiac arrest in 2011, just one month away from turning 15.

Andy was a disciplined student and athlete. He won recognition for placement among the top 16 Connecticut swimmers in his age group in a backstroke event. As a high school freshman he joined the track and field team and competed avidly during the cross-country fall and winter indoor track seasons. Andy passed away while training on a treadmill for the spring track season.

His father, Victor Peña, testified in favor of the legislation at a public hearing in February. He said, “Sudden cardiac arrest doesn’t only happen to adults, it happens to our children.  The more that athletes, their parents and coaches know about sudden cardiac arrest, the better prepared they will be if and when it happens. If we can spread this information, I hope we can prevent other families from having to experience what happened to ours.”

Andy’s parents, Victor and Giovanna, founded the Andy Smiles Forever Foundation in his memory, to educate the general public and support research on the causes and prevention of sudden cardiac death amongst youth.