Does your child need cardiac screening?

By Connie Jeske Crane on February 19, 2013
Two summers ago, our son, then seven, was winding down an active day with some friends at a local park. I began to notice that Zach was becoming unusually agitated. Since dinnertime was approaching, I insisted we go home. Disappointed, Zach stormed off on his bike and when I eventually caught up with him, I expected angry complaints. Instead, I found Zach draped over his bike, telling me softly, “Mom, I can’t make it home. I feel too weak.” Incredibly frightened, I pushed him home. There we discovered Zach’s heart was racing wildly. Once we got him resting on the couch, he complained of chest pains and headache. Strangely though, a few minutes later Zach said he felt fine and wanted to go play again.

We took Zach to Toronto’s SickKids Hospital as a precaution. Within an hour Zach got an ECG, saw a cardiologist, and we got the implausible news that our healthy, athletic, Energizer-bunny of a son had a heart condition. Our summer was then booked with hospital appointments and tests, with a lengthy surgery in the offing.

Our son received excellent medical care and today he’s doing great. I’m sharing this story for one reason only – to underline the importance of reporting cardiac-related symptoms to a physician and the effectiveness of simple ECG testing. Recently, there’s been lots of media attention around sudden cardiac death in young athletes. It’s difficult for me to read stories like that of Tyler Kerr, the Ottawa-area teen who died after suffering cardiac arrest at a hockey game. I’m always wondering – What if? What can we do to prevent more tragedies?

I contacted Dr. Greg Wells, PhD, for his advice to parents who might be worried by the news stories. Dr. Wells is part of a research group at SickKids that recently compiled recommendations for cardiac screening for athletes. Wells says a Canadian policy on cardiac screening for young athletes is “being developed as we speak.” (For a screening questionnaire, go to

In the meantime, he advises parents to watch out for two key symptoms. “If a child has a fainting episode or if a child has dizziness during exercise, that is not normal. Coaches, athletes and parents need to get that checked.”

Wells also adds that there is a genetic component to all of this. “If there is a family history of sudden cardiac death…that’s definitely something to bring up with your family doctor.”

Connie Jeske Crane is a Toronto-based freelancer and mom who writes frequently on parenting, green living, and health and wellness.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, February/March 2013.

By Connie Jeske Crane| February 19, 2013

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