Preventing sudden deaths of student athletes

May 6, 2010 4:50:21 PM PDT
They're some of the most shocking and sadder stories we cover. Young student athletes dropping dead from an inherited heart disease that has no symptoms, but is detectable.

Now, one school athletic director in New Jersey is calling for testing students before they hit the field.

Kittim Sharrod was 17 and captain of the football team. He ran track. His heart was always pumping strong until it stopped.

The star athlete collapsed and died on the field at Edison High School one year ago. The cause of death was Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, or HCM. A large heart.

"I think this is a wake up call for the whole nation. Not just our family and his friends, but to everyone," Razeenah Walker, his grandmother, said.

Kittim's grandmother says no one knew his fatigue could be a sign of something deadly. Now she knows. HCM is the leading cause of sudden death in student athletes.

After Kittim and another 17 year old here in Middlesex County died, Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan began to construct legislation. He wants CPR training and defibrillators in all schools and a bigger stronger state commission to foster awareness.

"The screening process right now is not very good. It really does not go into details concerning heart conditions. That needs to change," Diegnan said.

And if anyone understands that, it's Lisa Salberg.

"My uncle passed away from HCM. My father died back in 1973," she said.

Salberg lost her aunt and her sister too. She was diagnosed with HCM at 12.

She founded the Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Association.

"If you had a family member die suddenly under the age of 50 in their sleep, walking down the street or on an athletic field, you may be at risk for cardiac arrest and you need to speak to your doctor about that," Salberg explained.

Sadly, Kittim went to the doctor just two days before he died.

Both Lisa and Kazeenah say this legislation is great, but they would like to see it go further. Maybe mandatory testing or letters going home to all students at a certain age, they say. Either way, if this saves just one life, they say it's well worth it.


Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Association