Free heart scans aim to save teen lives
Tom Murray reportsPhoto: Video by tmj4.com
KENOSHA - Jim Schissel's son Sam pitched Kenosha Bradford to the 2008 WIAA state baseball title. He likes to focus on the happier times before Sam became very sick. Sam died the day before his 19th birthday.
"He was sick for about two and half weeks. It caused him to have a massive heart attack," Jim Schissel told TODAY'S TMJ4 reporter Tom Murray. "As you move away from the tragedy, you tend to hook onto the good stuff."
The medical examiner found something went wrong with Sam's heart.
"There isn't a day that goes by when you don't ask yourself what more could you have done," his father said.
Cardiologist Joseph Marek was so moved by story after story of teenage sudden cardiac death, he started a program TODAY'S TMJ4 saw thriving in a Geneva, Illinois high school gym.
"As a parent, you can't help but be shocked by that," Dr. Marek said.
It's called Young Hearts For Life. Students get a free heart scan that takes less than four minutes.
"It was easy," said high school senior Luke Totman. "Painless."
Doctors donate their time to evaluate the results. The real heavy lifting is done by parent volunteers who get a quick, but effective course to learn how to run the EKG machines.
Among the volunteers working the Geneva event, Brian and Kathy Wetters. They too lost their son Ryan to heart failure without warning.
"We wanted to do something in honor of our son to help others not go through what we had been through," Kathy Wetters said.
While these scans cannot catch every heart problem, Dr. Marek is convinced he delivers results.
"There are hundreds of kids that have been identified with conditions that were life threatening," Marek said. "I can sleep well at night knowing I've made a difference."
Right now, there's no program like Young Hearts For Life for Wisconsin families.
Jim Schissel, three years after losing his own son, wants that to change.
"Whatever we can do to provide the parents with one more piece of information for the health of their children and in this case athletically, we should be doing those kinds of things," Schissel said.
Marek says for every thousand students scanned, about three are discovered to be at high risk for some type of heart failure, ailment or problem.
Marek has figured out a way to get the cost down to less than ten dollars per test. He insists the money be raised in advance so the scans stay free. It takes parents, generous donors and sometimes school districts pitching in to make it happen