Waubonsie student says heart screening saved his life
By Jane Donahue For The Sun March 11, 2013 2:42PM
Young Hearts For Life volunteer Bill Toliopoulos administers an electrocardiogram (ECG) to a student at Metea Valley High School on Friday. The voluntary cardiac screening program will also be offered at Waubonsie in March and Neuqua in April. | Jane Donahue~For Sun-Times Media/Naperville Sun 20130222 Friday, Aurora
What is Young Hearts for Life?
The Young Hearts for Life Cardiac Screening Program is a voluntary free screening program that includes a three-minute electrocardiogram (EKG) to identify high school students at risk for sudden cardiac death.
Screenings took place at Metea Valley High School in February, while Waubonsie Valley will screen students March 14 and 15, and Neuqua Valley screenings will occur on April 11 and 12 (main campus) and April 19 at the gold campus.
Benet Academy is also hosting Young Hearts for Life at their Lisle campus April 5.
Parents who wish to have their child participate in the free screening program must enroll online at www.yh4l.org/registration-and-results.
Updated: April 14, 2013 6:03AM
It was almost two years ago when Chris Storm took part in Young Hearts for Life, a voluntary cardiac screening program offered at his high school. The results of his electrocardiogram (EKG) changed his life in a heartbeat.
“I sounds like a cliché, but the simple test saved my life,” said the 17-year-old Naperville resident. “It only took a few minutes, and it showed an abnormality in my heart.”
Storm, now a junior at Waubonsie Valley High School in Aurora, was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or HCM, a genetic condition characterized by abnormal thickening of the heart muscle. It is one of the most common causes of sudden cardiac death in young people, affecting one in 500 Americans.
“There are no symptoms,” said Storm, a former runner who competed on his high school cross country and track teams, “and I didn’t feel like anything was wrong. They told me if I had run the outdoor track season, I would probably have collapsed on the track and wouldn’t have survived.”
But thanks to Young Hearts for Life, Storm is surviving and thriving.
Dr. Joseph Marek, a clinical cardiologist and Young Hearts for Life founder, designed the program that brings the screening directly to the students. Since 2006, more than 90,000 area high school students have been screened through the program.
“I had hoped I may be able to do 10,000 to 20,000 EKGs, so this is beyond my wildest dreams,” the doctor said. “Now there is recognition of the value of the program, and we are getting a lot more interest in the area. It’s an issue of communication and awareness; getting the word out is valuable in saving lives.”
Marek said it’s growing. While he typically screens 13 to 15 schools each year, next year 22 schools have expressed an interest.
The program is run mostly by trained volunteers, from parents to community members. Marek donates his time at the schools, reading thousands of EKGs in a day.
“We have one employee and the rest are volunteers,” he said. “When I designed this program, I didn’t realize the critical role those ‘super’ volunteers would play. I am just blessed that there are people who are so dedicated to this.”
Chris’ mom, Rosemary, feels blessed as well. Almost two years since her son’s heart condition was discovered during the routine screening, she is thankful Young Hearts for Life was offered at his high school.
“Chris had a physical every year, but this is something that is not normally detected unless you do some type of EKG or ultrasound,” Rosemary said. “Dr. Marek changed our world that day. We firmly believe what he told us saved Chris’ life.”
Marek recommended the teen see a specialist for further testing, and immediately halt all running activities pending the outcome. Chris went to the Mayo Clinic for a series of tests, and was ultimately referred to a pediatric cardiologist at Advocate Hope Children’s Hospital.
In addition, because the condition is genetic, other members of the Storm family were tested. Today, Chris has an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD), a device programmed to detect cardiac arrhythmia and correct it by delivering a jolt of electricity.
“Chris can pretty much do any sport for fun, although he is required to monitor his heart rate,” his mom said. “He participates in physical education, jogging, and enjoys wakeboarding, snowboarding, and pickup games of soccer, basketball, lacrosse and volleyball with his friends.”
And for the Waubonsie Valley junior, sharing his story and encouraging others to get an electrocardiogram is one activity he won’t give up on.
“It’s been important for me to spread the word since I have been diagnosed,” Storm said. “It’s important for me to get the word out because this isn’t a disease that is widely known. I owe my life to Young Hearts for Life, and I know that.”
Waubonsie Valley Principal Jason Stipp said Storm’s reaction to his diagnosis is a testament to his maturity.
“Chris wants to help others and further educate our community regarding this initiative,” the principal said. “Hearing his story is a case for having this type of screening, and we encourage every family to take advantage of this through our school system.”
The Indian Prairie Educational Foundation supports the screening in School District 204, which takes place every two years. Foundation Chairman Kent Duncan said it’s well worth the $50,000 investment.
“It’s a small price to pay if any of these tests can ultimately save at least one life, evidenced by the story of Christopher Storm,” Duncan said. “We support opportunities that are normally not funded by tax dollars and see this as an enhancement to the overall educational experience.”