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Program tests young athletes for heart health

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Area student-athletes will have the opportunity to get heart-health screenings this month, at a discounted rate.

Ultrascan, Inc., of Suwanee, is partnering with Children's Cardiovascular Medicine of Marietta and Players Academy of Georgia, in McDonough, to offer low-priced heart screenings to the area's student-athletes.

The screenings are a part of Ultrascan's state-wide initiative to provide young people with inexpensive evaluations of how healthy their hearts are.

"It just gives parents peace of mind to know that their child's heart is OK," said Stephanie Naus, marketing director for the mobile ultrasound company's "Heart Screens for Teens" program.

Naus said the program was started in 2003, prompted by the stories of young athletes who appeared healthy, but died of undetected heart ailments. More specifically, she said, the program was created in reaction to the sudden heart-related death of 17-year-old Ryan Boslet, of Alpharetta.

Similar scenarios have continued over the years for young students and student-athletes, who do not realize they have heart conditions, said Ruth Rucker, a registered nurse in Henry County and a former board member for the Southern Crescent Chapter of the American Heart Association.

"Often times, these young athletes, it's just assumed that they are in good health. And the basic physicals they go through to play sports would not uncover the underlying issues of heart disease that could result in that stress that could possibly lead to death," Rucker said.

According to the company, Ultrascan, Inc., President and Founder Mickey King, Jr., recruited top cardiologists and echo technologists to work with the company's mobile ultrasound units to screen students' hearts for early detection of potentially fatal conditions not identified in routine physicals.

"It's kind of a step beyond a normal physical," said Naus. "A lot of these heart conditions go undetected, and this test will show the parents if the child has a heart condition, such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or enlarged heart."

The heart screenings are eight-minute echocardiogram exams performed on students, showing their heart muscles, she said. Pediatric cardiologists evaluate the exam results to determine whether a student's heart is enlarged or has any abnormalities. The results are later mailed out to parents.

Naus said the echocardiogram exam, which requires no preparation, typically costs between $900 and $1,500, and is not usually covered by insurance. The Heart Screens for Teens Program provides the exam for $58.

"Heart Screens for Teens" will be testing students on March 20, at Players Academy of Georgia, 177 Kendra Drive in McDonough, just off of Jonesboro Road and Interstate 75, at Exit 221.

Screenings are by appointment only, and begin at 9 a.m. To make an appointment, call Shannon Byrd, at (404)787-4651, or visit the program's web site at www.heartscreensforteens.com.