FRANKLIN COUNTY (WSLS 10) - The American Heart Association says sudden cardiac death claims up to 450,000 American lives each year and most commonly occurs in people with no prior symptoms of cardiovascular disease. While it is rare in high school athletes, it can happen.
As we reported in May, Franklin County athletes are part of a research study to see if EKGs make a difference.
"In 2005, my sister was a runner at Christopher Newport University and she passed away from sudden cardiac death," said Spencer Lovegrove adding it's one of the reasons he's becoming a doctor. "It was a lot to go through. It's still really clear in my memory. It was really hard."
The pain is something he doesn't want other families to go through.
"When my sisters teammates came to visit her in the hospital a lot of them felt really really bad because none of them knew how to do CPR and they just kept saying if they had known how to do something then maybe she would still be alive. I definitely remember them being upset," said Lovegrove.
The second-year medical student is part of the team at Virginia Tech Carilion screening high school athletes and talking to them about CPR. During this first ever mass screening at Franklin County High School they get family histories, a physical and an EKG. If a red flag pops up more tests are ordered.
Seven abnormal EKGs in Franklin County athletes required follow up with Pediatric Cardiology but no significant abnormalities were found yet.
"There are certain guidelines that are put out by the American Heart Association, but it's not necessarily if you go to your family doctor they are going to follow strictly and know exactly what they're looking for," said Dr. Jack Perkins who is overseeing the research with the goal of seeing if mass screening events like this one save lives while also saving money. "Obviously any parent is going to say there's no amount of money you could spend that's not worthwhile; however, with the health care system at some point we have to think about can we reasonably do this?"
The bigger part of this is education. Many places have emergency defibrillators. Perkins says while sudden cardiac death is not very common in high school athletes it is very common in adults. The community education piece of telling parents, coaches and teams that if you see it happen your actions in the next couple of minutes could mean life or death.
"Hopefully one or two of those students that go through this will actually be the person that intervenes if something they witness later in life," said Dr. Perkins.
"I don't want people to worry about it and freak out over it but I do want people to realize that it is something that can happen to them or to their family members. It's something that should be taken seriously," said Lovegrove.
Perkins wants to see this program expanded in southwest Virginia to other high schools annually. The American Heart Association says EKG screening is required for many professional athletes, but not for those in high school or college.