Parent Heart Watch-How to Help Save the Life of a Young Athlete


My son, age 15

Knowledge and prompt response are the keys to saving anyone with sudden heart arrest.

Parent Heart Watch is a wonderful organization dedicated to preventing the death of young athletes (and youth in general) from Sudden Cardiac Arrest.  I became aware of them after the death of my teenaged son, who died while playing baseball in 2006.  As I searched for a reason why a healthy, active child could die without warning, I found this group and have since supported them.  I ask all of you to do the same. Their website is :  Their phone number is 1-800-717-5828.

I recently became part of a fund raiser “Register to Relax” where supporters simply donate to the organization and encourage others to do so.  It is an on-going fund raiser. Since I get their regular e-mail bulletins, I heard about another campaign to raise awareness of this life or death issue.

I contacted Parent Heart Watch after they informed me of a campaign to give out magnets with information on how to detect symptoms of possible heart failure and steps that could be taken to prevent it.  They sent me 100 magnets, which I hope to give out at schools, churches, and in my neighborhood, along with a letter about what happened to my son. I hope to help them raise money to further their cause and keep other families from going through what our family has endured.

Yesterday, my middle-school student came home and told me that volunteers from a local hospital supported  by Parent Heart Watch had come to his school and given a short (but important) course in CPR/chest compression techniques that anyone could use while waiting on help to arrive.  They told the children how to watch for signs of possible heart issues in their friends. I am proud to support this organization and know that is working across the country to stop these horrific losses.

I can’t help but think that my son would be alive today if I, (or someone there)
had known the information that Parent Heart Watch seeks to teach. Even the information on the tablet-sized magnet could save a life. Parent Heart Watch encourages early detection of possible heart issues and early defibrillation of apparent heart related emergencies.

This is our story. Our son had hit  a great double and  made a steal to 3rd base in the previous inning, but the next player had made the last out of the 6th inning. Our son
had gone to his position in  right field  as the other pitcher and catcher practiced for the last inning. I later heard he had told a team mate after the 6th inning that he didn’t feel good. But, my son’s motto was “What don’t kill ya will make ya stronger,”  He went out for the last inning anyway. That statement has haunted me,

Someone. saw my son grab his head and said, “Is he hurt?”  I looked up and saw him running to me. I began running to meet him.   A few feet from me, he threw up his hands, as if to catch himself, and fell, apparently loosing consciousness. I later found out that his best friend, who was playing second base, had asked him what was wrong, and my son turned to him quickly and said, “I don’t feel good, I’m gonna have to go in”. That was the last thing he said.

It seems that no one on the field knew what to do, even a “nurse” who ran up to us  didn’t immediately recognize that this was a heart issue.  The ambulance, dispatched from a station within sight of the ball field, took a long back road, trying to get the ambulance closer to the field. To my knowledge, the 911 operator didn’t stay on the phone with the parent who made the call. I have seen a lot of kids collapse on ball fields/courts, but have never seen one die, as my son did.  The coaches and parents were most likely in the same category as I was.

I will add that once the ambulance arrived on the scene they worked diligently to save my son. I saw them trying to defibrillate him front the passenger seat of the ambulance.  The emergency room doctors worked on him over an hour.  A chaplain stayed  with us and brought reports from the doctors. The problem was, that time is everything in the case of sudden heart arrest, and it was too late for my son when help arrived.  I had taken CPR many years before, but had no idea that my son  was in arrest.  When he was obviously unresponsive, I am not sure why the “nurse” didn’t think of the possibility of heart issue.
I must continue stressing the importance of early  response in the case of any heart issue. On Parent Heart Watch’s magnet, it lists things you can do to properly respond to cardiac emergencies.  They stress that we must know how to respond to “SCA” (Sudden Cardiac Arrest), which means that a person has collapsed and is unresponsive. Below is a list of symptoms and responses.

(1) The person may have seizure-like activity or gasping and gurgling. (My son developed a “snore-like gurgling as he struggled to breath). This should be recognized a  cardiac emergency.

(2) Always call 911 immediately.

(2) Begin CPR manually immediately. (I have learned that even cardiac compressions to the tune and rhythm of the Bee Gee’s song “Stayin’ Alive” will work in many cases.)

(4) Having a portable defibrillator on site is vital-use it immediately if the symptoms of a cardiac emergency are noted.

My son was 15 years old when he was talked into playing baseball on a league based on groups of friends from different communities in our area.  He had played baseball and basketball for years, but had tired of organized and school related ball and hadn’t played in about a year. Though he had been given “sports physicals” in previous years, he had not planned on playing for school and he asked to wait to have a physical. I agreed.  He was very healthy, rarely getting sick enough to stay out of school.  He used to joke with me about wanting to stay home, Smiling at me and saying, “Can I be absent?”

At the time of my sons death, even national organizations such as the Little League and the YMCA did not require physicals.  They simply had a parent sign a paper that said they knew of no health issue that would keep their child from participating. Even the schools, who did require a “sports physical” did not require an Echocardiogram, which is the only certain way to note heart issues. I do not know if these rules have changed.

After his death, the autopsy revealed my son  had a bicuspid valve, which is relatively common and rarely causes problems until middle age, and may never warrant anything but precautions if one is not athletic. His official cause of death was “viral myocarditis”, which, as the medical examiner explained to mean meant that “an unidentified cold virus got into his heart” and caused the infection which lead to heart failure.

The medical examiner said the bicuspid valve probably didn’t directly cause his death.  People sometimes get virus  and recover within a short time, thinking that perhaps, they had the “flu,“ My cousin had the same condition, but was saved when he had symptoms of bronchitis and an alert emergency room physician noticed his symptoms and was able to get his heart back in rhythm with a defibrillator.  My cousin  also had a bicuspid valve, and though he was in his 50’s at the time, it had never been detected.

The point here is that my son most likely would not have been playing ball if we had known about the bicuspid valve. If he had been allowed to play, we should have been aware of the “Warning Signs and Symptoms of a Heart Condition” as outlined by Parent Heart Watch.

These symptoms are :
(1) Fainting, or seizure during or after physical activity, emotional excitement, distress or startle.
(2) Unusual shortness of breath ,fatigue or tiredness (our son did seem tired, but most teens do not get enough sleep and that, alone, would not alarm us if it wasn’t a lengthy, noticeable tiredness, possibly with the teen saying that they “feel tired all of the time.”)

(3) Chest pain or discomfort or racing heart.

(4) Dizziness during or after physical activity.

Only a year before, a  local 23 year old school teacher that we knew had died in his sleep of “viral myocarditis” after having symptoms of pain in his back and chest the day before. He though he may be getting sick, but had no idea or symptom that caused immediate alarm. To emphasize how common hear issues are in athletic young people, the nephew of my sister-in-law died a day after collapsing on the first during football practice.  He was a 22 year old college senior.

Sudden Cardiac Arrest in youth is not the “one in a million” event that people like to believe it is. It is estimated that around two or three teenagers in every mid-sized high  school have some sort of heart issue which at least should be detected and the parents be made aware of.  Even if heart issues were a “one-in-a-million” crisis, if that one is your one, that is the only one that matters.
Therein becomes the importance of Parent Heart Watch’s other goal-Early Detection of heart issues.

Sometimes, as with our son, there were no early symptoms.  Thus, the importance of early detection of possible problems. The most important test for early detection of possible heart issues is for every teen athlete (possibly every teen period) to get an Echocardiogram, which would show heart abnormalities, such as bicuspid valves, “holes” or weaknesses in the heart muscle, mitral valve prolapse (heart murmur) or other issues.

Please, take the time to learn these symptoms and procedures, whether you are a young student or a retiree.  They  may help save a life. Please support Parent Heart Watch in its efforts to educate the public on this critical issues. Loosing a child has devastated my life, and damaged so many more.  Every day, I think of who my son might have become and of how much he is loved and missed.  You can stop another child from dying.  You can keep another family from going through this hell.  Maybe, in your case, “What don’t kill
ya really will make you strong.  Contact Parent Heart Watch today and get involved!


8 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Robyn Lee said,

    Such a heartbreaking story you have… I am so inspired by your ability to dedicate yourself to this cause, and help others be aware that cardiac arrest is possible in a young healthy child. I for one did not know this. May you be blessed and at peace and may your son’s memory live on eternally within all those who knew him and those this mission is serving. Blessings to you ~ Robyn Lee

  2. 2

    boomiebol said,

    I am so sorry about your son. It’s so great that your are using your painful and no doubt unbearable experience to help others. Well done. Keep up the great work and stay strong. Sending hugs and love your way.

  3. 4

    Oster's Mom said,

    I appreciate you sharing your story. I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your son. The information you provide is invaluable to all.

    My heart goes out to you and your family.

  4. 5

    […] Parent Heart Watch-How to Help Save the Life of a Young Athlete […]

  5. 6

    Otrazhenie said,

    So sorry to hear about the death of your son. Heartbreaking story. Hope, your post will help to spread information that might help to prevent such deaths.

    • 7

      beebeesworld said,

      I try to post a blog about his completely unnecessary death at least once a year. In the seven years since I lost him, Parent Heart Watch and other organizations have dramatically decreased theses deaths through education, insisting on the availability of a portable defibrillator at sporting events, making echo cardiograms less expensive when given with a sports physical and training people on how to respond to an unresponsive person. It could be your grandson or your grandfather that you save. thank you for reading my blog. Please pass this information on.

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