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Foundation holds 'Teen Athletic Cardiac Screening'

Hellers co-founded TACS program with Legacy Health after son, David Heller, died in 2005


The David Heller Foundation and Legacy Health will hold their 7th Annual Teen Athlete Cardiac Screening to check student athletes ages 13 to 19 for potential heart problems.

The screening will be held Saturday, Oct. 12, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Adidas Village located at 5055 North Greeley in Portland.

Jeff and Bev Heller of Scappoose started the David Heller Foundation in 2006 to provide athletic cardiac screenings to teens. In its first year, the TACS program was held at Central Catholic High School and served 55 people. “Last year, we screened nearly 500 kids, that’s our goal this year,” said Bev Heller. The Hellers hope to increase the rate of screenings to twice a year and are working on putting together cardiac screening kits to enable small communities to conduct similar exams.

The Hellers co-founded the TACS program with Legacy Health after their son, David Heller, died of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in 2005 at the age of 17. The family was unaware of David Heller’s heart condition, which took his life in his sleep after he played a game of basketball at Central Catholic High School, where he was a junior.

Jeff Heller said the condition causes the wall between two chambers of the heart to thicken, ultimately filling the chambers and making the heart grow as it works harder. Those who suffer from the condition can die from strenuous physical activity. An autopsy revealed David Heller’s heart was twice the size of a normal heart when he died, Bev Heller said. by: ROBIN JOHNSON - Jeff and Bev Heller, co-founders of the David Heller Foundation, said their son, David was well on his way to play basketball at the college level before dying of an enlarged heart at age 17.

She said cardiac screenings aren’t required for school athletes, and added that David Heller had passed a physical exam to play basketball three weeks prior to his death.

“Rather than spending all of our time mourning, we decided to do something to help other kids,” she said. The TACS program is the only cardiac screening program of its kind in Oregon and one of few around the nation, said Bev Heller.

During the 2012 TACS program, 85 to 100 volunteers —many of whom were physicians and nurses — screened about 100 kids per hour over a five-hour period. At the event, volunteers check athletes’ vitals, body-mass index and subject them to electrocardiogram tests. Athletes then meet with a doctor and discuss their family history in respect to heart health, and finally receive a cardiac exam.

Bev Heller said hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is rare, but the screenings are meant to detect a variety of cardiovascular ailments. Of the 451 athletes who were screened in 2012, 53 were not cleared for physical activity due to a family history of heart failure, abnormal EKG (electrical activity within the heart) or a general abnormal cardiac exam.

Bev Heller said athletes who do not pass the screening are recommended to seek further evaluation.

The screenings also have an educational element for young athletes, informing them about heart health. “Those energy drinks are probably the worst things out there [for heart health],” Jeff Heller said.

Screenings cost $10 per athlete at the event. Normally, Jeff Heller said, cardiac screenings are valued at about $300. Despite the low cost, Jeff Heller said many parents are hesitant to bring their kids in for a screening.

“I’ve had parents come up and say they don’t want to know,” he said.

Bev Heller said that although the possible news of heart problems may be frightening to some parents, she would have preferred to know of her son’s condition.

“If we would’ve known we would’ve taken a different path, even though he loved sports so much,” Bev said. “I understand that parents invest a lot in their kids sports, but in the end, it’s just a game.”

To sign up for a Teen Athlete Cardiac Screening, visit www.legacyhealth.org/TACS.