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New law in state a first

Published June 26. 2012 05:01PM

Pennsylvania has enacted a new law that is the first in the nation to focus on preventing sudden cardiac arrest and death in student athletes.

"I'm thrilled," said Donna Milesky, 58, of New Freedom, about the new legislation.

When her son Michael was 15 years old, he was playing basketball with his brother and went into sudden cardiac arrest on the basketball court.

His brother Jason ran to the police station for help and ambulance crews responded, performing CPR and using an automated external defibrillator to save Michael's life.

She thinks the new legislation will be very beneficial.

"Effective screening is

very important, and increasing awareness of the symptoms so that coaches know what they're looking for is so important," said Milesky.

The bill's prime sponsor, state Rep. Mike Vereb, R-Montgomery County, said it's especially important because of the message often conveyed to youths in sporting events "to play through the pain and fatigue.

"But many people don't realize that advice can be fatal," said the lawmaker. "We learned this with concussions, and it's even more vital with children's hearts."

Gov. Tom Corbett signed the bill on May 30; the law goes into effect on July 1.

What would happen: The law requires coaches, parents and students to learn about the symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest. If they're shown by a player, the law requires the student be removed from the game.

Student athletes cannot return to the game until an evaluation has been completed and they've been cleared by a medical professional.

Every year, 2,000 students die of sudden cardiac arrest, and it is the number one killer of student athletes, Vereb said.

Sudden cardiac arrest prevention requires a combined effort of acknowledging, indentifying and responding to the problem, said Vereb. He hopes other states will look at Pennsylvania as a model state and enact similar legislation.

He was contacted by Darren and Phyllis Sudman after they lost their infant son Simon to a hereditary heart condition and began working to have legislation set in place to prevent similar heart-related deaths.

The Sudmans reached out to Vereb because they knew a student athlete had recently died from sudden cardiac arrest at Norristown High School, which is right in Vereb's backyard.

Vereb wanted his legislation to focus on awareness.

"When there is a concussion on the field, there is always that impact, and the impacts turn your stomach," said Vereb. "But sudden cardiac arrest is a silent killer, and there is no greater silence than when an athlete loses consciousness on the playing field."

Dr. Ronald Savarese, director of electrophysiology with York Heart and Vascular Specialists, believes the new legislation will be very helpful.

The symptoms of impending sudden cardiac arrest that athletes, parents and coaches can look out for include chest discomfort, a racing heart, a family history of heart murmurs or other genetic heart diseases, and most commonly fainting and loss of consciousness, said Savarese.

"It can affect anybody from a college athlete to a first-grader playing on the playground," Savarese said. "The disease can happen in anybody."

Sudden cardiac arrest deaths are the result of a fast and chaotic heart rhythm, Savarese explained.

"Any time you can educate an athlete about the signs and symptoms, it goes a long way in preventing incidences."

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