2013-08-21 / Local News

Local students & parents organize free heart checks for student athletes

Voice staff

Just as student athlete Jake Silpe was getting more intensely into sports, there seemed to be a rash of media reports about young players collapsing during games and dying from undiagnosed heart conditions.

“I play sports year round,” recalled Jake, 17, a varsity basketball player at Cherry Hill East. “My mom and I were concerned about heart attacks and wanted to learn if there was some way to prevent them from happening.”

Sudden cardiac arrest, a condition in which the heart stops beating suddenly and unexpectedly, is the number one cause of death of student athletes, resulting in some 2,000 deaths annually.

About two years ago, Jake took advantage of a free heart screening organized by his friend Jordan Shapiro, now 14, as a bar mitzvah project. The check-up took place at Cheltenham High School, where Jordan’s mother Alison Shapiro works as a teacher.

Much to their relief, both boys’ hearts had checked out healthy. Now the teens, with help from their parents and other athlete friends, are taking the campaign to South Jersey. Through their efforts, free heart screenings will be offered to students ages 10-19 at Cherry Hill East on Saturday, Sept. 7.

The 30- minute screening will focus on detecting conditions that can lead to sudden cardiac arrest. It’s free thanks to Simon’s Fund, a non-profit dedicated to raising awareness about heart conditions in youth. Founded by Plymouth Meeting residents Phyllis and Darren Sudman in memory of their son, Simon, who died from a heart condition when he was just three months old, the organization has successfully screened nearly 6,000 students since 2005, uncovering 49 cases of previously undetected and potentially fatal heart disease.

Simon’s Fund operates primarily in Greater Philadelphia and is a leading voice advocating to make screening of children’s hearts a standard of care both locally and nationwide. The Cherry Hill check ups mark the first time the organization is branching out to New Jersey, said Alison Shapiro, who attended college with Phyllis Sudman.

“It’s an amazing experience to watch,” said Shapiro, an active member of the Southern New Jersey Jewish community. “They bring in all the equipment, the physicians and nurses to screen for different types of heart conditions.”

The Cheltenham high school screenings were highly supported and well attended, she recalled, having been organized about five years after a popular student athlete almost died after going into cardiac arrest while running track during gym class. The school nurse was able to save the boy’s life by quickly hooking him up to a deliberator, a device that uses electrical pulses or shocks to help control life-threatening irregular heart rhythms.

“We saw what could happen,” said Shapiro, noting that the student, while retired from sports, has recovered to lead a normal life.

For Lydia Silpe, Jake’s mom, knowing that her son’s heart is healthy gives her an “enormous sense of relief.”

“It’s one less thing to worry about on a basketball court,” said Silpe, grant writer and outreach coordinator for Samost Jewish Family and Children’s Service (JFCS), an agency of the Jewish Federation.

Jordan and Jake are optimistic that their campaign will also be well received by South Jersey student athletes. They’ve spearheaded the awareness campaign through social media. Their committee of student athletes includes players from every major sports team at East. Moreover, their parents have reached out to recreational teams and athletic directors at other local schools. They expect that the 400 appointments for screenings will fill up quickly.

“Fortunately, my heart is fine,” added Jake. “But we wanted to spread the word about the issue. The screening was really fast. There weren’t any injections, just monitors of your heart to make sure everything is OK. It’s a good thing to do because otherwise you won’t know if something is wrong with your heart.” .

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