When your dad is a masters rower and your mom does triathlons for fun, chances are good you are going to live an active life. Throw in four boys and a pile of sports equipment and running shoes, and you’ve got the Forrest family.
Jewellyn Forrest is not only “mom” but also works full-time as an elementary school teacher. Her husband Scott works in software marketing. Two years ago, she decided to take their three older boys to get their hearts screened. She’d once had a student in her class who needed emergency attention because of an unknown heart problem. So, since her boys played baseball and football and also ran track, she wanted to get them checked.
The screening event at her sons’ high school 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.
“I remember watching their sonograms and realizing it was the first time since I was pregnant that I had seen their hearts,” recalls Jewellyn. “Then I was pulled aside, and a doctor explained we would need a follow-up for Matt.”
Now a high school senior, Matt Forrest volunteers with his high school’s anti-bullying campaign and plays football and baseball and lifts weights. While he’s a tackling machine on the field, off the field he’s a soft-hearted young man with a smile that spreads across his whole face. But two years ago, when he saw his mother and the cardiologist conferring about his heart screening he was nervous. The doctor had detected a T Wave Inversion, an abnormal pattern on an electrocardiogram that can mean serious heart problems that could cause cardiac arrest. His brothers were fine.
“Matt was worried he’d be pulled from sports,” Jewellyn recalls. “Then he realized this may be a more serious thing and he was anxious to go find out more.”
With support from Championship Hearts Foundation, Matt had several follow up visits with cardiologists, including another sonogram and a treadmill test. They learned that the unusual pattern of Matt’s heart is normal for him and is not evidence of a serious problem.
“It will be something he will be able to tell doctors about in the future,” Jewellyn says. “I think the most valuable thing we learned is that while Matt’s heart isn’t a problem now, it can affect how doctors treat, medicate, and make decisions for him.”
Thankfully, Matt was cleared to do whatever he wanted--a huge relief for the whole family. Yet as an adult it will be important for him to remain active and fit to keep his heart healthy.
“I was surprised that something might be wrong,” Matt says, “and it caused me to pause. But I found that my heart has a ‘normal for me’ abnormality and I’m glad to have that information.”
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.
“I recommend Championship Hearts Foundation to many of my kids’ friends and families,” Jewellyn says. “It is sometimes scary to think something might be wrong, but knowledge is power and it’s essential to know about any hidden dangers with our kids.” For Matt, who’s looking forward to graduation, college and all of life’s adventures, nothing can stop him.