The number-one killer in schools, sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), attained its status because the victims aren't aware of the risks, and because they haven't been diagnosed for it. A measure introduced by shore Representative Frank Pallone (D-6) aims to bring the dangers front of mind for students, teachers, coaches and administrators.

Rep. Frank Pallone (c) announces HEARTS Act in Metuchen (Anton Becker)
Rep. Frank Pallone (c) announces HEARTS Act in Metuchen (Anton Becker)

The Cardiomyopathy Health, Education, Awareness, Research and Training in Schools (HEARTS) Act would authorize creation of cardimyopathy-specific educational materials for schools, teachers, and parents, through a collaboration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), patient advocates and health professionals.

The bill would also initiate development of guidelines for placement of automated external defibrillators, and of information regarding cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training in schools.

Figures cited by Paloone estimate that about 600,000 people in the US suffer hypertrophic cardimyopathy, and that as many as 1,000,000 conditions can trigger sudden cardiac arrest in young people.

"The problem is really acute among student athletes," Pallone said. "About 30,000 kids around the country have it.Their hearts become enlarged, or the walls thicken, so that when they're involved in strenuous activity such as sports, they're more prone to an attack."

A key objective of the bill is to introduce screenings into school procedures. "In New Jersey, it's largely taking place, because of legislation passed by Senator [Pat] Diegnan [(D-18), and schools have defibrillators available at games...but the biggest problem with sudden cardiac arrest is the lack of diagnosis."

Most teens and students who haven't been exposed to life-threatening conditions have a tough time grasping the possibility of their own vulnerabilities. Pallone believes that school personnel can carry the most crucial role of transmitting the concept in ways that will raise their awareness.

Funding for the HEARTS Act, Pallone said, is for a future discussion in Congress, which he acknowledges has sidelined many acts of legislation during repeated efforts to repeal and/or replace the Affordable Care Act.

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