Free cardiac screenings benefit LT students


Grace DeKoker, Copy Editor

Cardiovascular disease is often the last thought on any high school student’s mind, but approximately 7,000 teenagers experience sudden cardiac arrest each year. Only one in every 10 of them will survive, according to the American Heart Association. Treatment options are limited, since a high percentage of the victims are unaware of a heart condition and were seemingly healthy.

In 2006, Dr. Joseph C. Marek saw what these young people were facing. A board certified cardiologist at Advocate Medical Group, he knew the best method to reduce teenage deaths was knowledge. He founded and currently serves as the medical director of the Young Hearts for Life program (YH4L).

“As a parent and a cardiologist, these deaths are devastating,” Marek said. “You read about [sudden cardiac failure] in medical literature, and realize nothing can really be done. I read an article about how New York was dealing with it, and it showed [electrocardiograms, EKGs] reduced sudden death rates by about 85 percent. We started the program soon afterwards, and the rest is history.”

YH4L has been offering free heart screenings to students across the Chicago suburbs and into Indiana for almost 12 years, team leader Mona Mayr said. LT hosted them April 19 and 20, where 1862 students combined from both campuses were screened for heart disease.

“Knowing if your heart is healthy is so important,” Colleen McGovern ‘18 said. “I take Anatomy, and we learned about the symptoms of heart disease and how they can be so hard to find, so [being preemptive] is important.”

The reason EKGs are so successful in diminishing the odds of sudden cardiac death is because they can reveal underlying problems with the heart’s rhythm that otherwise could have gone unnoticed, Marek said. One to two percent of all students who receive the EKG have abnormal results, and go on to follow up with their primary care physician for further treatment, he said.

Marek and his partner, Dr. Ziad Simmois, are both full-time cardiologists, and twice a month they each visit schools to interpret the students’ EKG results. Since the EKGs are completely free for students, YH4L relies on volunteers to conduct the actual tests.

“[YH4L] is overwhelmingly volunteer-based,” Marek said. “We did a study on the quality of our EKGs, and they are as good as, if not better than, most ERs and hospitals. Our volunteers do a phenomenal job.”

Heart screenings are recommended every other year for teenagers until the age of 20, Mayr said. LT has been visited four times in the past eight years according to Physical Welfare Division Chair John Grundke.

“This is to a whole other level with undetected [conditions],” Grundke said. “We want to catch it, so if there is an issue, we want to know about it ahead of time. The safety of our student athletes is always number one.”