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Protecting Student Athletes from Sudden Cardiac Death: Cardiac Emergency Plans and AEDs for the Locker Room

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My brothers were all jocks. You know the kind I’m talking about – star athletes who excelled in every sport. Always a “starter,” they were often fair game for the opposition who sometimes worked overtime to take them out of the game equation. Football games were particularly difficult for my mother. Every time one of them went down, she’d freeze - whispering silent (or sometimes not so silent) prayers under her breath until they got up and limped off the field. The dangers of the game were fully known and every reasonable precaution was taken to protect the athletes from injury, but as we all know, sometimes the unexpected happens. While you can take precautions to protect against known dangers and try to prevent injury, there is one unseen danger that is more difficult to protect against – sudden cardiac death.

It’s almost unthinkable to believe that a seemingly healthy young person at the peak of their physical abilities could drop dead of a heart attack. And yet, that exact scenario is played out time and time again. On March 3, 2011, 16-year-old Wes Leonard from Michigan died of sudden cardiac arrest after scoring a winning basket during a basketball game. A week later, Texas junior Robert Garza died during a basketball tournament in Austin. The cause of death for Garza has not yet been determined but sudden cardiac death is suspected.

Sudden cardiac arrest occurs when the heart, for some reason, simply stops beating. Just like when the lights go out as you turn the switch to the off position, the heart stops beating when the electrical flow that tells it to beat is interrupted. Unlike a heart attack, there’s no warning. The victim will simply collapse and be immediately unresponsive.

In cases of sudden cardiac arrest, it’s imperative that victims receive immediate cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Even for adults, the survival rate for sudden cardiac arrest is very poor. For student athletes, the survival rate is abysmal. It’s estimated that 10 percent (only one out of every 10) of student athletes who suffer sudden cardiac arrest survives.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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