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A Brotherhood of Winners

Isaiah Hernandez

In the entire state of Texas, Isaiah is among the fastest 14-year-olds. His slim frame and natural speed mean he also excels on the basketball court and the football field.


But Isaiah wasn’t always fast. In fact, he was born with multiple serious health problems. Doctors told his mom and dad, who adopted him, that he would not develop normally. “They told us not to expect much,” his mother recalls. As a young child Isaiah suffered from seizures and developmental delays, requiring various therapies and treatments. Fortunately, he thrived.


So, the summer before Isaiah started high school, his father Marvin wanted to get his son’s heart screened by Championship Hearts Foundation as a precaution. The nonprofit organization provides free heart screenings for student athletes in Central Texas. The goal is to prevent sudden cardiac death, the leading cause of death in young athletes ages 14-18.


It was Marvin’s third time in ten years to bring one of his sons to get checked. “My oldest son Kendall got screened in 2009 and Alex was screened a couple years later,” Marvin recalls. A volunteer basketball coach for a local select team, Marvin first learned about Championship Hearts Foundation as a coach. He had heard about student athletes collapsing on the field and wanted to make sure his players were healthy. 


Back then, the heart screenings were held at the Heart Hospital of Austin. Students and their parents drove from as far as Manor, Bastrop, Cedar Park and Pflugerville to get the free heart screenings in central Austin. 


“I didn’t have any particular concerns about Kendall’s health,” Marvin says. “We just didn’t want any surprises.” Kendall’s heart was normal, and he went on to compete in high school basketball. He will soon graduate from Texas State University, having studied psychology. 


Two years later, it was time for Marvin to take his middle son Alex to get screened. Alex is actually Marvin’s stepson and Alex’s father’s family had a history of heart problems and diabetes. So, there was some concern that the boy might have a heart problem that might limit his ability to play his favorite sport: football. When they learned Alex’s heart was normal, the whole family was relieved. Alex is now a truck mechanic who has enjoyed parkour, a demanding sport that requires running, jumping and climbing obstacles.


When Marvin made plans to get Isaiah’s heart screening, he happily discovered that Championship Hearts Foundation now offers screenings all around Central Texas. He was able to register online for a time slot for the day and place that was most convenient for them. In the flurry of preparing for high school, Marvin appreciated how easy it was to sign up.


With a career in retail, Marvin knows the importance of treating people well. He appreciates that though the service is provided at no cost, the experience is top-notch. “The best thing about Championship Hearts Foundation is the people,” Marvin says. “You feel well taken care of and the volunteers just make it happen.” Marvin attests that though the screenings no longer take place at a hospital, the process is professional, efficient and easy. 


Having overcome so many health problems, Isaiah felt pretty invincible. But his parents were relieved when the Championship Hearts Foundation volunteers affirmed that his heart is indeed healthy and it’s safe for him to do the activities he loves. 


Championship Hearts Foundation travels around Central Texas providing free screenings that include a 12-lead electrocardiogram (ECG) and a limited echocardiogram (ECHO), tests not included in standards sports physical examinations. The organization’s large-scale heart screening events are usually set up in high school gyms and cafeterias, small medical clinics and hospitals. Booster clubs, local businesses, and hospitals provide support.


Thanks to the generosity of volunteer doctors and technicians, hospital and medical partners, and financial donors, the screenings, which would normally cost about $700 in a cardiologist’s office, are free. Heart screenings are available for athletes, as well as members of the marching band, cheer or drill teams, ages 14 to 18 years old. They take just five minutes.


If an abnormality is found, the volunteer cardiologist that interpreted the tests will recommend a full evaluation by a pediatric cardiologist. Championship Hearts Foundation provides information and assistance to guide parents through the process to receive a full evaluation.


When asked about his favorite sport, Isaiah has trouble choosing. Is it the 110 hurdles or the 1-mile relay? No, it’s probably football. He is a longtime Philadelphia Eagles fan because of Michael Vick, the left-handed quarterback. Isaiah is also left-handed.


When the family is not driving to sports competitions, they are deeply engaged in their church, teaching Sunday school and attending Bible study. In addition to the three boys, Marvin has two older daughters—one works for a nonprofit organization and the other teaches at Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders.


“I’d like to thank Championship Hearts Foundation for being there,” Marvin says. “I don’t know how we would have been able to afford getting all three boys tested.” As a coach and parent, Marvin is a devoted advocate for the organization, encouraging student athletes to get a heart screening. “It’s definitely huge that it’s free!” 


Isaiah somewhat shyly offers that he likes science and algebra, but his dream is to play for the Philadelphia Eagles. He’s already a winner, having overcome more challenges than most kids his age. Isaiah is excited to finally get to compete at the high school level, having grown up watching his brothers play. His proudest moment so far? Winning a bronze medal in track and field at the state meet. Next stop: nationals.  

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