Football, hockey, soccer, basketball, baseball, softball, the list goes on – sports are as synonymous with high school and college as books and tests. No one promises these sports will be easy. Coaches push their players to be the best they can be, encouraging them to find the ends of their limits and move beyond them to greatness. But pushing too far can be dangerous. Every U.S. state now has laws requiring schools to educate parents and coaches about concussions, and the latest push has been to put similar laws in place to educate parents and coaches about the signs and symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest. While sudden cardiac arrest is not as prevalent as concussions, on average it claims the life of a young athlete every three days.
With the passing of The Eric Paredes Sudden Cardiac Arrest Prevention Act, also known as California Assembly Bill 1639, California is the latest state to put measures in place to help prevent sudden cardiac arrest within school sports programs.
Most of the currently enacted state SCA Prevention Acts are worded similarly. They include requirements for pupils and their parents or guardians to sign and return an acknowledgment they received an information sheet on sudden cardiac arrest symptoms and warning signs each school year before the pupil participates in an athletic activity. Athletic directors, coaches, athletic trainers, or other authorized persons must remove players who pass out or faint while participating in or immediately following an athletic activity. In addition, coaches of athletic activities need to complete a sudden cardiac arrest training course every other school year.
Supporters consider this bill a first effort in preventing future deaths through information and risk assessment. One supporter, Heartfelt Cardiac Projects, states, “This bill is an inaugural step in educating youth, parents, and coaches about the potential warning signs and risk factors of sudden cardiac arrest and about the cardiac chain of survival that could save a life.”
Originally, the Eric Paredes Foundation worked with the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) to enact new training and education protocol on Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) prevention. On January 30, 2016, the CIF Federated Council voted unanimously to amend their bylaws to include SCA training for coach certification. Also included is practice and game protocol giving coaches the power to remove players if they faint during a game or practice (one of the first signs of cardiac distress).
In addition to working on this bill, the Eric Paredes Foundation provides free heart screenings at high schools in Southern California which include an ECG. Participants do not need to attend the school or be an athlete. They just need to fill out the forms and show up. Since 2010 they have screened over 21,000 students, found over 400 abnormalities, and of those, 171 were confirmed to be at risk for SCA.
Eric Paredes, for whom the sponsor organization of the California bill was named, was a young athlete who died from sudden cardiac arrest while at home. Eric’s parents hope to use the story of their son’s death,and those of other young athletes, to bring attention to heart screening and possible warning signs they say could save the lives of other children. The Foundation has worked extensively to produce and distribute information on SCA and to promote training videos for coaches. Other bills in other states have typically been petitioned by foundations started by the parents of other young athletes who died of sudden cardiac arrest. Most don’t think of SCA as a threat to seemingly healthy young adults, especially athletic ones! But underlying, undetected genetic heart conditions can unexpectedly strike down players with no warning. The ability to recognize the signs and symptoms is key to their survival. Education, pre-participation screenings which include ECGs, and regular CPR/AED training should help protect more families from facing the kind of tragedy the Paredes and others like them have lived through.