Parents and teenagers were stunned when YouTube star Caleb Logan Bratayley died suddenly from what was discovered to be an undetected heart condition known as Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy. He was 13 years old. Caleb’s story is unfortunately becoming a recurring one as we see more and more accounts in the news of young people losing their lives to Sudden Cardiac Arrest.
Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) occurs when there is an electrical disturbance in the heart that disrupts the heart’s ability to pump blood to the rest of the body, and causes a person to stop breathing and lose consciousness. (This differs from a heart attack where blood flow to the heart is blocked.) SAC kills more than 7,000 children every year. Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy is the number one cause of heart related sudden death in people under the age of 30 and the most common cause of sudden death in athletes. It occurs when the heart muscle thickens, making it more difficult for the heart to pump blood.
Doctors and researchers have been discussing early screenings for heart conditions in children for a number of years. In 2009, a cardiologist at the University of Texas Medical School conducted a study with 94 sixth graders at a Houston middle school to screen and test them for heart problems. Researchers found seven students with undiagnosed heart problems, two of which required surgery. One participant, Madelinne d’Aversa, had a large abnormal hole in her heart which could have caused irreversible damage as she got older. The then 12-year old had surgery to repair the hole and shortly after went back to her normal activities including volleyball and dance team. Madelinne has followed up with a cardiologist every few years and is now a freshman in college. She has had no problem with her heart since her surgery.
The only symptom Madelinne experienced prior to her diagnosis was shortness of breath—something that could have been attributed to a number of other medical issues. A family history of heart problems can sometimes play a role in an undiagnosed condition. Parents should also take note if their children exhibit the following symptoms, especially during or following physical activity:
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
- increased heart rate/palpitations
Doctors are able to uncover irregular heart rhythms with a test known as an electrocardiogram (referred to as an EKG or ECG). Unfortunately, this test is normally not given to children during a routine physical.
Since cardiac testing on children is not widely accepted, the best defense is quick medical attention. When a child goes into sudden cardiac arrest, the brain and other vital organs are deprived of blood and oxygen. Performing CPR will help the blood flow temporarily but it will not restart the heart. For this reason, many schools now have automated external defibrillators (AEDs) on site. An AED jolts the heart to restore its natural rhythm. This is crucial as there is 3-5 minute window to get the heart pumping again before serious damage is done. At this time only 19 states require AEDs in at least some of their schools.
Parents want their children to be in the best of health and an undiagnosed or misdiagnosed heart condition could lead to a life-threatening incident. If your child or a child you know has suffered an illness or injury because medical professionals misdiagnosed a cardiac condition, you can take action. Contact a qualified attorney at Finz & Finz, P.C., to hold these doctors responsible and be compensated for your family’s suffering.