Several dozen families squeezed into the large lobby at Providence Wilsonville Medical Plaza the evening of Aug. 31 for the free Play Smart Youth Heart Screening event. Put on by the Providence Heart and Vascular Institute, the 100 percent donor-funded program has screened more than 17,200 children and identified more than 1,000 children with undiagnosed cardiovascular conditions since its inception.
Created in June 2012, the Play Smart program was the brainchild of local cardiologist James Beckerman. For years Beckerman had been concerned with the number of sudden cardiac arrest and other serious episodes that were happening to youth as the result of undiscovered cardiac conditions.
Lydia Hibsch, the business/community development manager at the Providence Heart and Vascular Institute, says that Beckerman's passion — in combination with the support of the Heart and Vascular Institute and financial donors — gave Play Smart its start.
"When we first started the program, we weren't sure what the model would be besides what we typically do in healthcare, which is to set up a screening clinic and invite parents and families in to do a screening. So, initially, we ran it like a normal EKG (electrocardiogram) clinic where we had staff that was able to screen kids," Hibsch said. "But we quickly realized that the volume of kids that we wanted to capture weren't coming through the doors because parents are busy. So if we really wanted to focus on prevention and community wellness and improving the community-based population's health, I felt that we really needed to go out into the community."
This realization lead to the current community-outreach model that playSmart uses of partnering with schools and community organizers throughout Oregon and southwest Washington to host screening events.
Events and clinics are run by EKG technicians. Each Play Smart screening consists of a height, weight and blood pressure check and a 12-point EKG. After the initial results are read and shared, children with abnormal readings have a phone consultation with a Providence cardiologist and are invited back for a follow-up with a free echocardiogram, which normally would cost patients $1,000-$2,000.
"I would say up to 10 percent of kids, after we do their initial EKG screening, we find that we need a little bit more information about their hearts," Hibsch said.
The program has now conducted more than 170 school and community-based screenings and of the 1,000-plus children diagnosed with dangerously high blood pressure or a heart condition, nearly a dozen cases of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy — an inherited condition that affects 1-in-500 people and is the most common cause of sudden cardiac arrest in youth — were discovered.
For Wilsonville resident and educator Joel Dunn, helping to bring Play Smart to Wilsonville to screen local youth was a no-brainer.
"I used to be the athletics director at a high school, and during one of my first years, there was a young man that was from Dallas High School that was a wrestler and had a wrestling match at Silverton High School and after his match, out of the blue, collapsed and died," Dunn said. "They told us later that it was due to an undiagnosed heart condition."
Dunn said that a lot of schools purchased AEDs in response to the death, but that he felt like there was more that could be done in terms of prevention. After doing some research, Dunn discovered Play Smart was already available as a community resource.
"At that point, it was just about connecting this organization to us," he said. "So a couple of years ago we did a heart screening — a little bit smaller than this one — right here and the demand was higher than the supply."
Due to the fabulous turnout at the first event, with more families showing up to participate than could be served, Dunn and Hibsch wanted to recreate the event this year with more technicians and longer hours.
Dunn's 7th grade daughter, Fiona, also came to the event to have her heart screened. Participating in an impressive array of sports — soccer, basketball and cross country among them — Fiona said that she wasn't concerned about her heart, but that she'd rather be safe than sorry.
"These conditions are out there and you wouldn't know it," Dunn said. "So with programs like this, I think that for families it's reassuring, and the fact that it's free and easy because of Play Smart, is really great."