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San Diego family continues to fight for heart screenings for children

Posted at 11:57 AM, Oct 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-27 14:57:15-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- Hector Paredes’ son Eric was only 15 years old when he suddenly passed away in 2009.

“I came home from work, and I heard music playing and I thought my son was going to try to scare me like he had done in the past, and then I saw him collapsed on the kitchen floor and I called 911 and started CPR. Losing a child is, I always have said, the most evil kind of pain,” said Hector Paredes.

A year after Eric’s death from sudden cardiac arrest, the Paredes family started the Eric Paredes Save A Life Foundation in an effort to prevent undetected heart-related deaths in children.

The foundation has screened over 32,000 San Diego teens, detected 537 cardiac abnormalities, and found 239 teens with conditions like Eric’s.

“Many can be addressed with medication or ablation; if parents and coaches know, we would not have this situation,” said Paredes.

Another local family is mourning the recent death of their 13-year-old son from an undetected heart condition. Madison Middle School student Marco Benitez fainted while playing soccer and died at Rady Children’s Hospital from a heart condition that was not known to his family or doctors. Marco’s mother told ABC 10News he had just passed a school physical.

Maureen Legg, co-executive director of the Eric Paredes Save A Life Foundation, said, “Studies show sudden cardiac arrest occurs in up to 23,000 each year. That’s based on a NEMSIS (National Emergency Medical Service Information System) study from 2020. A variety of studies have shown that an average of 1 in 300 youth has an undetected heart condition that puts them at risk. They were likely born with it, and could’ve inherited it, or it developed as they grew. Those abnormalities get missed because our preventative care is not where it should be when it comes to heart health.”

Legg continued, “A stethoscope is 200-year-old ‘technology’ that misses most of the conditions that can cause sudden cardiac arrest. And well-child checks or pre-participation examinations for sports (PPE) don’t typically include a comprehensive cardiac risk assessment, where warning signs and risk factors are thoroughly reviewed. In fact, nothing about cardiac risk assessment is mentioned in the American Academy of Pediatrics Bright Futures guidelines for preventative health care, except a new pulse oximetry test that looks for congenital heart disease, which is important, but doesn’t find the type of conditions that put youth at risk for SCA.

We know that at least half of youth who had a sudden cardiac arrest had at least one warning sign or risk factor before the event; they -- and everyone around them -- just didn’t recognize it as a potentially life-threatening condition, which is because unlike ‘don’t drink and drive’ or ‘just say no,’ we’re not actively having a conversation with our kids about what puts their heart at risk -- which includes energy drinks, diet pills, performing enhancing supplements, steroids and misuse of prescription drugs -- and when to speak up.”

Paredes is working with lobbyists to make electrocardiograms part of a child’s annual physical, that way they can get a comprehensive cardiac risk assessment.

Legg said, “At present, studies have shown that an electrocardiogram or ECG can detect at least two-thirds of conditions that put kids at risk for SCA, but ECGs are not a standard part of preventative are -- we believe they should be. It’s a simple, painless, non-invasive test that in San Diego alone has found over 200 kids at risk -- across 34,000 screened, which is about 1%.”

She added, “We have been asked if it’s worth going to the trouble to screen all kids when only a few will be found at risk. If you ask the Paredes Family, and I’m sure Marco’s family, and the thousands of other families who lost a child, the answer is yes.”

“We felt, we hoped, we could do something to help other families,” Hector said.

Legg said, “You can see the onus is on the practitioner to be familiar with warning signs and risk factors, and to ask four specific questions of the youth/parent at each visit, and to clarify any ambiguities, to use an ECG to take a closer look. While this is a step forward, clearly it only works if all providers incorporate this into their practice, plus there’s the problem of missing asymptomatic youth -- the other 50% without warning signs or risk factors, who answer no to all the questions, but still have an undetected heart condition.”

More information on sudden cardiac arrest in children can be found on the Eric Parades Save A Life Foundation website