Saving lives

An EKG screening takes less than 45 minutes and does not include any invasive procedures.

An EKG screening takes less than 45 minutes and does not include any invasive procedures.

Sudden cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death in the United States, taking the lives of nearly 400,000 people annually. But what most parents don’t know is that sudden cardiac arrest also is a leading cause of death among people under age 25, and the No. 1 killer of student athletes.

While sudden cardiac arrest often has no warning signs, a study published by the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine revealed that 72 percent of students who suffered from it were reported by their parents to have at least one cardiovascular symptom before the attack. They just didn’t recognize it as life-threatening.

Hector Paredes and Rhina Paredes-Greeson, who lost their son, Eric, in 2009 at age 15 to an undetected heart abnormality, are trying to change that. They established the Eric Paredes Save A Life Foundation, which offers free heart screenings for youths at area high schools.

The next free screening is set for Sept. 27 at Hoover High School. Screenings take about 45 minutes and include a cardiac questionnaire, an EKG, and, if indicated, a limited echocardiogram. Participants also learn CPR and how to use an automated external defibrillator, or AED, — the only two life-saving measures once sudden cardiac arrest strikes.

According to the American Heart Association, thousands of youths die each year from a syndrome the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Association calls a public health crisis. The Save A Life Foundation has screened nearly 17,000 youths, finding 1 in 100 with a heart abnormality or risk factor that unknowingly put them at risk.

Devin is one such youth. He was a healthy kid, the quintessential young athlete. But when his mother heard about Eric Paredes’ death, she followed her instinct to check Devin’s heart.

Their world was turned upside down. The screening detected atrial septal defect, and a battery of tests found a symptomless coronary artery anomaly – the second-leading cause of sudden death in young athletes, and typically discovered during autopsy.

“We were shocked and scared as we shut down all activities in preparation for Devin’s open-heart surgery,” Devin’s mother said. “All went well and he’s back to normal, but we can’t imagine his future and ours had we never done a routine heart screening.”

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Founded to honor the Steele Canyon High School teenager who lost his life to sudden cardiac arrest at age 15 in 2009, the Eric Paredes Save A Life Foundation strives to educate parents, educators, physicians and elected officials on the prevalence of sudden cardiac arrest among teens and the importance of standardizing EKGs as part their regular health care. Established in 2010, the nonprofit provides free cardiac screenings to teens, with the ultimate goal of standardizing screenings among our youths, and equipping our schools with readily accessible automated external defibrillators, with CPR/AED training for students and staff.