THE POWER OF KNOWLEDGE
At age 14, Abraham was a basketball player known for his speed and cunning on the court. A few days after he finished the Capital 10K run, his mother, Angie, took him to Seton Medical Center Hays near his home in Kyle to get his heart screened. “I learned on Facebook that Championship Hearts Foundation was coming to our area,” she recalls. Though Abraham had no symptoms of heart problems, she signed him up for a free heart screening, thinking it was a prudent thing to do.
The screening event was organized by Championship Hearts Foundation, a local nonprofit that provides free heart screenings for student athletes in Central Texas to prevent sudden cardiac death, the leading cause of death in young athletes.
Two years later, Abraham is a high school junior, a trim young man with a gentle smile who wears his black hair in a classic crew. He still remembers lying on the exam table when the tech who did his sonogram called in a cardiologist. At the time, Abraham felt invincible but after an initial follow-up visit to a pediatric cardiologist, he and his parents discovered that he has a heart abnormality that puts him at risk of cardiac arrest.
Abraham has a bicuspid aortic valve (BAV), the most common congenital heart condition. His aortic valve has two leaflets, instead of the usual three. The aortic valve regulates blood flow from the heart into the aorta, the major blood vessel that brings oxygen-rich blood to the body. This means that Abraham’s heart works inefficiently and his left ventricle is enlarged from the extra effort to pump blood.
People with BAV are prone to sudden deadly heart attacks as young adults. Eventually, Abraham will need surgery to repair the faulty valve.
Knowing about his heart condition has brought changes to his young life. He gave up the basketball team because playing at maximum effort wasn’t good for his heart. He also gained maturity quickly.
“I wanted to be a police officer, but I can’t lift heavy weights or strain,” he recalls. “So, I’ve taken more of an academic approach. I want to study computer science and use science and math as a career.”
Two years after his diagnosis, Abraham plays guitar, piano and ukulele and recently finished a Marvel comics film marathon to prepare for the newest release in the series. He’s celebrating another Capital 10K run and preparing for the junior prom. He sees the cardiologist twice a year to monitor his heart.
“I don’t recall heart screenings being mentioned at any athletic meeting we ever attended,” says Lole, Abraham’s father. “It’s important to for parents of student athletes to know about this. It’s so easy. You make an appointment and just go. The small time investment is worth it, even if you don’t find anything. And if you find something, it’s okay.”
For Abraham, knowing about his heart condition is like having a crystal ball. His heart valve has a limited life-span and will need to be replaced. It might be when he’s 30 or when he’s 50. Until then, he is dreaming of college, dating and all the other things awaiting him in adulthood.
One in 250 high school students has a serious cardiac condition which can cause sudden death—but the risk of sudden cardiac death is much greater in athletes due to their strenuous physical exertion.
Founded in 2000, 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.
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.
Angie made a donation to Championship Hearts Foundation the day of the screening, not yet knowing how valuable it would be, and she tells friends with teens to get their hearts screened. “You all basically saved my son’s life,” Angie says. That’s the power of knowledge.