Heart Smart

It’s known as sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) and it happens, literally, in a heartbeat. It is the cause of death for about 350,000 people a year, more than breast cancer, prostate cancer and HIV/Aids combined.

“The figures are astounding, but equally astounding is that with medical testing and prior knowledge, many deaths can be prevented,” says Eric Schroeder, co-founder and executive vice president of Athletic Testing Solutions, an Overland Park-based company that provides testing for sudden cardiac arrest in young people.

Athletic Testing Solutions was founded in 2012 by Schroeder, a 24-year health care veteran who decided “enough is enough” after seeing story after story about young adults dying from SCA.

Schroeder, whose background is in cardiovascular imaging, knew that a 20-minute screening could identify the majority of heart problems causing the epidemic. In fact, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it is the leading cause of sudden death among young athletes — many of whom appear to be in superb physical condition.

So Schroeder teamed up with local businessman David Kuluva to start Athletic Testing Solutions, which focuses primarily on student athletes.

“Research shows that about 2,000 young athletes between 12 and 24 years of age die annually from sudden cardiac arrest,” says Kuluva, the company’s president. “Of that number, 60 to 80 percent had no warning or symptoms prior to collapsing from SCA.”

A major reason for that lack of knowledge is the high cost of medical testing. Tests such as an electrocardiogram (EKG) and an echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) can run anywhere from $500 to $700 in a doctor’s office. Both tests are key to uncovering hard-to-detect problems such as structural heart defects and irregular heartbeats, two leading causes of SCA.

“The echocardiogram is the most expensive part of the test but critical to providing a clear picture of a child’s heart health,” says Schroeder. “The EKG can pick up about 60 percent of existing heart problems but the echocardiogram picks up other problems that may not be revealed by the EKG.”

How it works

For a small price per student, Athletic Testing Solutions offers on-site EKGs, echocardiograms and blood pressure checks to large groups of young people at testing events held in familiar environments such as the school gym, cafeteria or commons area. Students are required to pre-register by filling out a short medical questionnaire and family history. Testing takes about 20 minutes.

“We set up a portable clinic on-site to provide privacy and a professional atmosphere,” says Schroeder. “Every child has their blood pressure checked, a 12-Lead EKG and finally the echocardiogram.”

The tests are reviewed by a cardiologist and results are e-mailed to parents within a few days. The child’s health care provider also has access to the tests. If a problem is uncovered, parents are encouraged to follow up with their family physician, who can make proper recommendations and referrals.

To date, the company has tested hundreds of kids and discovered problems in about 8 percent of those tested, with 3 percent identified with more serious heart issues.

“Some had absolutely no idea,” says Kuluva. “In one incident, the student athlete was tested and the little sister was along so she was also tested. The athlete was fine but his little sister had a heart issue that needed attention.”

Who pays?

Athletic Testing Solutions receives partial funding for testing events from organizations such as Strive 4 Life (strive4life.org), a non-profit organization that promotes the wellness of young people through education and preventative services. The company also partners with local corporate sponsors such as Will Shields 68's Inside Sports, the Town Center Health Spot and HC Realty.

“We are reaching out to businesses and community organizations and have had great response for sponsoring testing events,” says Schroeder. “Awareness is growing and many are familiar with stories about kids just collapsing and dying. It’s very personal to many people.”

Recent testing events were held at Shawnee Mission West, Shawnee Mission South and Blue Valley North high schools. Sports leagues, coaching associations, community hospitals, professional sports teams and other high schools have also participated.

Kuluva notes that finding heart problems need not mean an athlete will be sidelined.

“These tests are all about treatment and prevention.”

Schroeder adds the tests also offer peace of mind and a sense of wellness.

“What some have gone through losing a child in this way is unthinkable. We want to help make it unnecessary.”

For more information or to schedule a screening event, visit athletictestingsolutions.com.