As the 2012-13 school year begins, we thought we'd get to know a few of the terrific teachers out there who make our children's lives richer….
Lynette Ryan remembers the moment her 5-year old son Teague took his last breath in her arms. It was February 16, 2004, when she and her four children playfully chased each other through the house. Lynette says she surprised Teague around a corner, and his heart literally stopped. "He let out an 'Ahhhh!'" Ryan said. "I didn't have any indication that something was wrong. I scooped him up and started walking down the hallway with him and by the time I got to his room he wasn't conscious at all." Sudden Cardiac Death (SCD) leaves families like the Ryans desperate for answers when tragedy hits them without warning and with little explanation. Teague died from myocarditis, a virus in his heart, which the family suspects resulted from a throat infection. Tom Ryan, Teague's father and the head coach of Ohio State University's men's wrestling team, said his son had no signs of a weak heart and had a routine physical exam in the days before his death. Teague's undetected underlying heart condition is the hallmark characteristic of Sudden Cardiac Death. "There were no warning signs at all, but he was a time bomb," Tom Ryan said. WHAT IS SCD? The 12 kinds of heart conditions that can cause Sudden Cardiac Death are triggered by an increased heart rate and metabolic rate. This is the reason that young athletes are among the highest percentage of victims. The most common causes of Sudden Cardiac Death are: hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (a sick heart); coronary artery abnormalities present from birth; and myocarditis - an infection of the heart which is the condition that took Teague's life. Often there are subtle warning signs of heart abnormalities, like fainting during physical exertion. As more information becomes available about SCD, parents and coaches are better equipped to recognize a potential problem. Dr. Naomi Kertesz, Director of Electrophysiology and Pacing at the Heart Center at Nationwide Children's Hospital, encourages parents to look deeper into their family history to spot important details that could be red flags. "If someone in your family died under the age of 50, you should ask why they died," Kertesz said. A death from a fall or single-car accident could actually be due to a heart condition. WHAT CAN FAMILIES DO? If a family history suggests a condition that can be inherited, yearly EKG and echocardiograms may be performed. A child may not have symptoms even if they have a condition, which is why underlying heart abnormalities can be difficult to detect. Some abnormalities develop over time and some cannot be detected at all. The American Heart Association considers Sudden Cardiac Death in athletes an infrequent event, noting that it occurs in one out of every 200,000 youth of high-school age per year. This creates a tough balance for parents who want preventive screening for their child and cannot get it without a doctor's prescription, and physicians who caution that widespread screening for the 7 million high-school athletes in the U.S. could unnecessarily sideline kids who are not sick. "Sometimes people are referred to me because their screening test was read as abnormal," explained Dr. Kertesz. "That is because the person who reads it is not familiar with pediatric ECGs. I look at the same test and it is a normal finding in a child. The child has been restricted and the parents worried for no reason." Local company mCORE (Mobile Cardiac Overview and Risk Evaluation) is piloting a program in several area schools. It is designed to give parents affordable access to preparticipation cardiovascular screening. Right now the mobile program targets young athletes. If a school chooses to offer the mobile screening, parents can opt-in to have their child tested for $75. The results are examined by a cardiologist and confidentially available to parents. "We are now able to take a mobile, private screening system to a location," said mCORE spokesman Anthony Susi. "Five years ago this technology was not available." While cases of SCD are relatively uncommon, the statistics do not matter for families like the Ryans. The Ryans suggest that families keep a defibrillator in their home, which costs around $1,100. They say it could have saved Teague's life. The entire family has dedicated their lives to making parents aware of Sudden Cardiac Death. Even 12-year-old Mackenzie has raised more than $16,000 for the American Heart Association. The Ryans say awareness is the best and only prevention.