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Copyright 2014 Ventura County Star
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Ventura County Star (California)
Rachel McGrath Special to The Star

Oaks Christian School in Westlake Village has partnered with UCLA Health in Thousand Oaks to offer discounted health physicals and cardiac screenings for students in an effort to ensure athletes do not have undiagnosed heart problems.

The private school started the program last year at the suggestion of school nurses Linda Latham and Leslie Heimbuch.

It followed the death during swimming practice in February 2013 of Harvard-Westlake junior Justin Carr, 16. An autopsy showed he suffered from cardiomyopathy, a weakening of heart muscle that can result in sudden cardiac arrest.

"There's always a few children every year who die from a cardiac event, whether they're playing sports or at school, so the opportunity to have a cardiologist take a look at them, have a family history, do a full exam to rule out any genetic abnormalities is a phenomenal thing," Heimbuch said.

Eric Newberg, of Woodland Hills, came to the screening day Friday with his son Alex, 16, who plays soccer at Oaks Christian.

"I think it's great," Newberg said. "It's very easy, convenient; and it's not expensive and it takes care of everything in one setting."

Brother and sister Cole and Cassidy Palka, of Thousand Oaks, were among the 100 or so student athletes who waited their turn at UCLA Health facility at 100 Moody Court.

"I think it's really cool that our school planned a little day to do it here," said Cassidy, 15, who is on the track team. "We can see all our friends, get a little checkup; and it's fun, too."

Cardiologist Tracy Huynh said she was screening for arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat, and enlarged hearts.

"Sudden cardiac death is the No. 1 cause of death that's not traumatic in teenagers and non-athletes, and it's something that's preventable," Huynh said.

"We look at the high-risk features, such as if you've had a heart murmur or if you have high blood pressure. We look at family history, has anyone ever died suddenly, and if you have fainting spells, things like that."

Any teen with something that requires closer examination is given a electrocardiogram and, if warranted, a stress test, she said.

Dr. Rachel Ferrara, a family practitioner at UCLA Health in Thousand Oaks, did the initial screening for Brigitte Dunne, 17, a standout golfer at Oaks Christian.

"There is a form that's got about 60 screening questions that the student and the parent fill out in advance. It asks about personal history, family history, head injuries, cardiac symptoms, hospital visits, broken bones, so it's a very thorough history, and I'd say that's one of the most important parts," Ferrara said. "Going through the history is really where we're going to flag things.

"We do a thorough physical exam as well, from head to toe, and then the student sees the cardiologist."

Dunne, of Camarillo, competed in the U.S. Juniors in July and said playing a sport at that level puts a lot of stress on the body, and being able to get this type of screening was a smart move.

"I do a lot of working out. I like to swim. You have to practice every day," Dunne said. "So it's good to get checked out."

August 20, 2014




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