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I watched with great sadness earlier this year as two high school athletes—within one month—lost their lives while playing the sports they poured their hearts into. Two others nearly died this year.

In March, a 15-year-old teen in Colorado nearly died after collapsing on the field in the middle of baseball practice due to cardiac arrest. Then in May, a 16-year-old basketball player in Chicago collapsed during a tournament, nearly losing his life. Also in May, two other students died—an 8th grader at a New Jersey school died while doing “routine activity” during gym class, and a 15-year-old West Virginia student lost his life after suffering an apparent heart attack on the field.

This is difficult news for me to digest. Deaths due to heart disorders are largely preventable if they’re identified early.

Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM) is a serious genetic heart condition in which the heart muscle thickens. It is relatively easy to detect; however, left undiagnosed, it can be life threatening. HCM affects one in 500 student athletes every year, and it is the leading cause of sudden cardiac death in young athletes.

In August, high school football players will begin “two-a-day” practices—and soon after, they will take to the field. As you secure your son or daughter’s safety gear for their sport of choice, I urge you to protect them in a way sports gear cannot—have them screened for HCM.

On Saturday, Aug. 23, from 8 a.m. until noon, Heart Hospital of Austin will offer free heart screenings for students ages 14 through 18. The screening, which will be held at Heart Hospital of Austin, will include a 12-lead electrocardiogram (EKG) and a limited two-dimensional echocardiogram, or ultrasound of the heart, to detect HCM. Both the EKG and echocardiogram, which take about five minutes each, are noninvasive and painless. Results of the screening are reviewed by a cardiologist and are available immediately.

To date, more than 6,000 students have been screened at Heart Hospital of Austin.

Heart Hospital of Austin is located at 3801 North Lamar Blvd. Appointments are required. To schedule an appointment, visit HeartHospitalofAustin.com or call (512) 478-3627. Upon arrival, a parent or guardian will be required to fill out a questionnaire for each student.

Paul Pagley, M.D., is a clinical cardiologist with Austin Heart with medical staff privileges at Heart Hospital of Austin.

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