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Jose Garcia
Multimedia Contributor

Free heart screenings for student athletes on Saturday

Two life saving events this school year highlighted the importance of being prepared when somebody with a heart issue needs immediate care.

In October, Rio Rico’s wrestling coach suffered a heart attack. In January, a soccer referee fell to the ground during a game after sudden cardiac arrest. 

Those around the coach and official responded heroically. On the heels of those incidents, a local non-profit, the Anthony Bates Foundation, is organizing a free heart screening event for youths on Saturday in Peoria that also will offer non-certified CPR and automated external defibrillator training sessions.

According to the ABF, hyperthropic cardiomyopathy, a thick heart muscle, is the leading cause for young athletes dying. ABF is named after a former Mountain Pointe and Kansas State football player who died from hyperthropic cardiomyopathy.

Sharon Bates, Anthony’s mom, started the foundation in 2002 to honor her son and to offer heart screenings. Sports physicals can’t detect hyperthropic cardiomyopathy, but an echocardiogram can.

Arizona’s young athletes can register for an appointment for Saturday’s heart screening event here as well as learn about more heart screening events. But you don’t have to have an appointment to attend Saturday’s event from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at Liberty High’s gymnasium.

Event organizers are accepting a $55 donation for each heart screen, which can cost about $1,000. The money that is raised will go toward helping the Anthony Bates Foundation purchase defibrillators, which can cost between $600-$1,000, for high schools.

It’s not known if a defibrillator that the Anthony Bates Foundation donated to Salpointe was used on the referee in January, but a defibrillator helped save the official’s life. Last year, the Arizona Interscholastic Association became just the second high school association in the nation to require every school to have a defibrillator on site when it hosts a playoff game.

Anyone Can Save A Life, a program developed by the Minnesota State High School League, approached the AIA in 2011 about endorsing the defibrillator on site policy and implementing an action plan for cardiac emergencies. The AZ Share program, which is under the Arizona Department of Health Service/EMS and Trauma, helped bring ACSAL to Arizona.

So far, 128 of the AIA’s schools have submitted emergency action plans

Shellie Wenhold is another angel looking out for young athletes with potential heart issues. Wenhold, the program director for the Anthony Bates Foundation and state coordinator for Parent Heart Watch, worked with the AIA to get the defibrillator policy passed.

Wenhold’s son, Jonathan, died after suffering a heart issue during a PE class in 2004. Jonathan was nine years old.

“We have a misconception about what heart issues are all about,” Wenhold said. “We think that it’s all about lifestyle choices and that we are aging. But the fact of the matter is that it’s not just that. It can be a genetic or congenital condition, or it can be an athlete doing everything right.”