SOMERVILLE — Sudden cardiac arrest became a national topic of concern as millions watched NFL quarterback Damar Hamlin suddenly collapse on the field after a routine tackle in a Jan. 2 game.
Hamlin was out for more than 18 minutes, receiving CPR and an automated external defibrillator (AED) on the field. After being released from the intensive care unit, Hamlin continues to recover at home and felt well enough Sunday to watch the Bills’ playoff game from a luxury box at the stadium and visit with his teammates.
But many athletes are not so lucky.
Between 100 and 150 athletes die of sudden cardiac arrest each year, according to the American College of Cardiology. Screening can help detect underlying heart conditions, such as heart rhythm disorders that can cause sudden cardiac arrest.
Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) Somerset will be offering free heart screenings for athletes aged 14 to 18 from 8am to 12pm on February 4 at the hospital’s Diagnostic Cardiac Testing Unit on the second floor of the main hospital on Rehill Avenue.
“Damar Hamlin’s sudden cardiac arrest on the football field this month is proof that a major cardiac event can affect anyone, even a young athlete in a leadership position,” said Dr. Stephen Georgeson, a cardiologist at the Univ. Robert Wood Johnson Hospital in Somerset. . “Cardiac screening can detect underlying heart disease and prevent a tragic accident in a young athlete.”
Over the past decade, undetected heart defects have claimed the lives of several Central Jersey student-athletes.
Edison High School football standout Keithim Sherrod had an undiagnosed heart condition known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or an enlarged heart. He collapsed and died of sudden cardiac arrest at track practice in May 2009.
Just seven months after Sherrod’s death, former South Brunswick basketball player Brandon James died of sudden cardiac arrest.
In 2015, former East Brunswick student-athlete Patrick Awosagba, an 18-year-old college freshman at Rutgers University, passed out and died while playing on the basketball court at the Rutgers Recreation Center. In 2016, a Colonia High School basketball player needed defibrillation after collapsing on the court during a freshman game at Edison High School.
Over the past 13 years, RWJUH Somerset has screened more than 1,100 young athletes.
Cardiologists, nurses and technicians at RWJUH Somerset will perform an examination that will include a cardiovascular history and physical examination, blood pressure screening, body counts and an electrocardiogram. In addition, if indicated, an echocardiogram may be performed.
Results will be shared with students to share with their personal physicians.
A parent or guardian must accompany each student to the cardiac screening. Appointments are required and can be made by calling 908-685-2414. For more information, go to www.rwjbh.org/cardiacathleticscreening.
Cheryl Makin is an award-winning film and education reporter for theMyCentralJersey.com, part of the USA Today Network. Contact: Cmakin@gannettnj.com or@CherylMakin. For unlimited access, sign up or activate your digital account today.