The Massachusetts state medical examiner is trying to figure out why 12-year-old Joshua Thibodeau collapsed on the soccer field and later died at an area hospital.
Officials said Joshua did not have any indication of a pre-existing medical condition, and he had a medical waiver clearing him to attend the camp.
It’s a tragic story we hear all too often. But as a pediatric cardiologist, I can’t help but wonder if Joshua had ever underwent a cardiac screening – and what may have been found if he did.
Some studies suggest that sudden cardiac death (SCD) in sports is a very rare event, but the reality is, these deaths are much more common than previously reported. And when it comes to your children, are you willing to take a chance?
Many have argued that the benefit of cardiac screening simply does not outweigh the financial burden, approximately $200, placed on the individual. But saving lives and saving money do not have to be seen as mutually exclusive.
The implementation of a well-designed cardiac screening program, which is both comprehensive and detailed, including an electrocardiogram (EKG), may be more cost effective than previously thought.
In addition to screening for the major culprit of SCD and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, less common, but equally deadly cardiac conditions may also be detected.
The program should also screen for preventable chronic illnesses, which also are responsible for taxing the already strained health care system.
But the truth is, EKGs are not a foolproof way of detecting heart disease in children. And the reason is, physicians commonly make mistakes in EKG readings for children.
A study published this month in The Journal of Pediatrics, suggests that mistakes are occurring too often in the reading of EKGs for children and young athletes. Unfortunately, some in the medical community seize upon the flaws in childhood screening to conclude that it is just not worth screening children.
I am flabbergasted that more professionals do not view these documented flaws in test reading as an urgent call to do better.
I have proposed a systematic approach to screening children that has both accountability and education built into the system. Designing screening programs that are specialized to accomplish a specific medical task can reduce mistakes and increase the accuracy of results. This approach also reduces the cost of screening and, most important, does a better job of protecting our children’s health.
We live in a culture where millions can be spent to perfect the aluminum baseball bat to ensure a greater number of home runs, even though it increases the risk of injury and death to our children.
Let’s begin to get our priorities straight and put our efforts where it counts: Our children’s health and future security.
Dr. Robert J. Tozzi is the chief of pediatric cardiology and founder of the Pediatric Center for Heart Disease at Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, New Jersey. He is also the director of the Gregory M. Hirsch Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Center and a Fox News contributor.