Heart Center holds free screenings for athletes

Karl Schneider

FARMINGTON — The San Juan Regional Heart Center will offer free adolescent cardiac screenings for student athletes on Dec. 3.

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The screenings will include limited echo and baseline electrocardiograms to look for potential health risks for athletes that could lead to sudden cardiac death (SCD) in young athletes. The screenings are open to all student athletes ages 13 to 18.

This marks the seventh year of offering free EKGs to student athletes. Barbara Charles, the cardiology service line director at the center who organizes the screenings, said the process takes about 15 minutes to complete, and would cost $2,000 to $2,500 if someone were to pay for the screenings out of pocket.

“We have an army of volunteers across our front line staff of our cardiology departments, as well as our physicians who are there, will be there and parents will be getting real-time results, and the doctors will be visiting with the parent and child right away so they can leave knowing if they’ll need a formal follow-up,” Charles said.

Dr. Charles Wilkins, a cardiologist at the San Juan Regional Heart Center, said the screenings have caught abnormalities in one or two kids each year.

“Generally, it’s a very rare occurrence,” Wilkins said. “In this country, there are about 200 (SCDs) per year, and the majority occur in high school athletes, because that’s the majority of athletes.”

Families in San Juan County don’t need to look far to find an example of an athlete affected by an undetected heart issue. A few years ago, former Aztec star Matthew Hegarty — who went on to play football at the University of Notre Dame and the University of Oregon — suffered a stroke after two holes in his heart grew large enough for a blood clot to pass through.

Hegarty was able to recover from the health issues and return to the field, but others haven’t been as lucky.

This football season, two high school players — Lewis Simkins from Lexington, S.C., and Chase Lightfoot from Pearland, Texas — died from undiagnosed heart issues. Simkins and Lightfoot are just two of the latest athletes to die from heart complications, including high-profile basketball players such as Pete Maravich and Hank Gathers.

Dozens of the 160 slots for the screenings are still available, and athletes can be registered at the San Juan Regional Medical Center's website through Friday afternoon.

A parent or legal guardian must accompany the student athletes to the screenings. If you have had a screening in the past two years, another screening is not necessary.

Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.