Volunteers from Young Hearts for Life prepare to run an electrocardiogram on a player from the OPRF Hockey Club (Courtesy Brian Cassidy)

The OPRF Hockey Club and Young Hearts for Life partnered to host cardiac screenings at Ridgeland Common on Sunday. The free electrocardiogram (ECG) screenings, made available to players (and siblings age 12-25) from Huskies Hockey, Fenwick Girls Hockey and the Park District of Oak Park’s Ice Bears travel hockey program included approximately 60 young adults who signed up for a screening plus walk-in participants.

“Through cardiac screenings, if the doctors can flag even one player, one teenager for potentially a cardiac condition than we’ve done our job,” OPRF Hockey Club President Roy Phifer said. “We’re very close to it because of the event that happened here with one of our hockey players back in October.”

On October 5, 2014 OPRF Hockey Club player Grey Small headed over to the Paul Hruby Ice Arena at Ridgeland Common to play in a game like he had so many other times. While standing just off the ice and watching a junior varsity game, he collapsed and went into sudden cardiac arrest.

Fortuitously perhaps even miraculously, Emily Petersen (a nurse practitioner at Lurie Children’s Hospital) was at on hand at Ridgeland Common to watch her boyfriend officiate the varsity game. After seeing Grey’s teammates calling for help, Petersen immediately came over and performed CPR. She also called for an automated external defibrillator (AED) which was available at the ice rink and immediately placed on Grey’s chest. Within minutes, paramedics arrived. Petersen’s expertise coupled with Ridgeland Common’s on-site AED and the paramedics’ swift arrival saved Grey’s life.

“Emily knew exactly what do when she looked at Grey. She’s a pediatric nurse, that’s her job,” said Robert Small, Grey’s father. “We were extremely lucky because like 98 percent of the time in those kinds of situation the person dies.”

Understandably, Petersen is regarded by Grey and his family as his angel on earth.

“Emily is our best friend and a wonderful person,” said Marilyn Dunn, Grey’s mom. “I think she has a stake permanently in Grey’s life. She saved his life and wants to make sure he’s good.”

Since the horrific incident, Grey is recovering well and even back playing hockey, albeit on a monitored basis. He also wears an implanted automatic fibrillator on his chest.

“Grey is doing great now. If it were up to him, everything would be back to normal, Robert Small said. “Obviously, we’re listening to the doctors. At this point, Grey is [medically] cleared to practice, but he can’t play in a full-contact game. We haven’t ruled anything out and we haven’t ruled anything in.”

While the community, particularly the OPRF Hockey Club, has supported Grey and his parents during their ordeal, it also has served as the impetus to have as many young adults screened as possible.

“What happened with Grey really brought it to our attention,” Phifer said. “Even though something like a heart condition is something you don’t typically associate with teenagers or adolescence, it is a condition. The cardiac screening is how you find out about it. If we can make this available to a large group of kids within the community, it’s really worthwhile.”

Oak Park resident Marrey Picciotti and her daughter Isabel, an OPRF student, attended Sunday’s event.

“I’ve been hoping that these screenings are done at the high school,” Picciotti. “When I found that the OPRF Hockey Club was holding a free cardiac screenings, I wanted to see how it works on a smaller scale. Getting an ECG is a personal choice, it’s not mandatory. I think it’s very important and beneficial to get screened so young adults as a way of being better informed about their health. It’s not just for athletes either; it can be virtually any student who is fairly active.”

Isabel, who plays golf at OPRF, received a screening and hopes her friends and classmates do the same.

“I have all different kinds of friends and I think it’s important they get a screening,” she said. “When I heard about Grey, I thought how could have that have been prevented. Nobody knew in that situation what was going to happen, but getting kids to take one [cardiac screening] can help prevent something like that ever happening again.”

Since 2006, YH4L has screened approximately 130,000 students in Chicagoland area schools. The organization recommends that teens and young adults receive an ECG every two years.

“The screening is so easy, painless. It’s not really a big deal to have it done,” Dunn said. “It’s not foolproof and won’t catch 100 percent of heart conditions, but why wouldn’t a person want to do it. It could maybe save somebody’s life.”

The OPRF Hockey Club and YH4L firmly believe all OPRF students should receive an ECG. According to YH4L, roughly 2 percent of any given student population will have ECG results that require further evaluation. About 0.7 percent of students end up having life threatening cardiac conditions.

In other words, there could be as many as 30 students at OPRF who most likely are unaware they have cardiac conditions that put them at high risk for causing sudden death.

Those figures aren’t meant to frighten parents and their kids as much as reinforce the importance of taking an ECG.

“Typically our pattern is to go to an area high school and screen kids throughout the day, say during gym class,” said Dr. Robert Marek, the Founder and Medical Director for YH4L. “Depending on the size of the school, we can conduct anywhere from 800-1200 ECGs a day. We train community volunteers how to do ECGs. You can train someone to administer an ECG within an hour, and it’s been demonstrated with scientific studies that community volunteers do it the same quality or even better than any emergency room, local hospital or doctor’s office.

“Our model works because we do large scale ECGs in a very efficient and cost-effective manner. It’s really what needs to be done because if these conditions are present in 6 or 7 out of 1000 kids, 1000 kids have to be screened. Our kids are our greatest resource in a community. It’s in our DNA to do whatever we can to help them. And it takes volunteers and a community effort to make these screenings work in an efficient, cost effective way.”

For more information about Young Hearts for Life, visit www.yh4l.org, and for the OPRF Hockey Club, visit oprfhockey.com



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