Texas Advances on Requiring Heart Exams for Athletes


The Texas House has given preliminary approval to a bill that requires the monitoring of student athletes' heart health in honor of a Texas high school football player who passed away in 2012 from sudden cardiac arrest.

Earlier this week, preliminary approval was given to HB 767 by the House, which would require student athletes in the state to have an electrocardiogram (EKG) prior to being allowed to play high school sports. The bill was written in honor of Crosby High School senior Cody Stephens, who had planned to attend Tarleton State University on a football scholarship. He fell asleep in a recliner in his home in 2012 and never woke up. Doctors would later find that Stephens had an enlarged heart.

Had he received an EKG, the heart problem that took his life could have been spotted, writes Ryan McCrimmon for The Texas Tribune.

"If we can save one kid's life, it's worth it," said state Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, one of the bill's authors.

Student athletes in Texas are already required to go through a health assessment before being allowed to play sports in school. The bill would add an EKG, a noninvasive test that measures electric activity in the heart, in the first and third year of participation in the sports program. Parents would have the right to opt out of the EKG requirement "for any reason." About 20% of school districts in the state already require their athletes to receive an EKG.

The requirement would not go into effect until the 2016-17 school year, in an effort to provide rural school districts who do not already have an EKG machine the time necessary to acquire the equipment.

Free heart screenings are available through a number of organizations, including the Cody Stephens Go Big or Go Home Memorial Foundation, run by Stephens' father, Scott Stephens.

However, not everyone supports the bill. A number of House members spoke out in opposition, saying it could add costs later on for future procedures if the initial EKG comes back as inconclusive. According to State Rep. Stuart Spitzer, who is also a physician, families could spend hundreds or even thousands on continued testing for an inconclusive EKG.

Eddie Lucio asked his peers to imagine facing the parents of a child who could have been saved by an EKG.

"What are you going to tell that parent when they come to you and say, ‘Hey, there was a bill before you to make this test mandatory and you voted against it?'" Lucio said. "Think about that."

Similar efforts are underway in Delaware, where the creation of the nonprofit Heart in the Game has the goal of offering free EKG screenings to all students in the state between the ages of 10 and 19, reports Greer Firestone for Delaware Online.

Pediatric cardiologists suggest one such screening in both middle and high school.

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