Brevard County nonprofit helps save lives with heart screenings

EKG detects heart condition in teenage surfer

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – The Brevard County nonprofit organization Who We Play For is doing its part one heart screening at a time, helping save lives like that of now 15-year-old Gavin Idone of Cocoa Beach.

Lena Idone described the moment last year when her teenage son, a health surfer, was diagnosed with a heart condition.

“It can lead to sudden cardiac arrest, we’ve learned. So, yeah, very scary,” Lena Idone said.

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She said she and her son were about to head home from a surf contest in Satellite Beach when they decided to get him screened.

“We were just walking through the parking lot where there’s a bunch of tents,” Lena Idone said. “A girlfriend and a surf team mom stopped and said, ‘Who We Play For is doing heart screenings, we should get the team screened.’”

That’s when Lena Idone said she signed up her son for an electrocardiogram test, also known as an ECG or EKG, which helps detect any cardiac abnormalities.

Lena Idone said her son never showed any symptoms and was a healthy boy. But at 14 years old, the test revealed Gavin Idone was suffering from Wolff-Parkinson White syndrome, a condition that causes a rapid heartbeat between the upper and lower chambers of the heart.

“It can be found at any age but when we do screening EKGs it is one of the cardiovascular conditions in the teenage group that can predispose to sudden cardiac arrest,” said Dr. Gul Dadlani, chief of pediatric cardiology at Nemours Children’s Hospital.

The hospital works with Who We Play For by checking the screenings and advising them on what steps patients need to take afterward.

Gavin Idone had to undergo a heart ablation -- a procedure to destroy tissue in the heart that causes an abnormal heart rhythm. Dadlani said 1% of teens diagnosed with Gavin Idone’s condition are at risk of sudden cardiac arrest.

“Patients with Wolff Parkinson White as they age are at risk of sudden cardiac arrest. And the reason for that is as we age we can all develop a condition called atrial fibrillation, which is a fast heart rhythm between the upper chambers of the heart,” Dadlani said, adding parents should request an ECG even if their child seems healthy.

“It’s an easy add-on to the annual check-up. It’s not standard across the United States. In the United States currently, Texas and Pennsylvania have laws recommending EKG screening prior to sports participation in high school,” Dadlani said.

The nonprofit Who We Play For was founded after a Cocoa Beach high school soccer player, Rafe Maccarone, collapsed during a game in 2007. He was just 15 when he died.

“We watched our teammate lose his life because he didn’t have the opportunity to have his heart checked with a heart screening in Cocoa Beach High School,” Evan Ernst, executive director of the organization, said.

Ernst said it’s not just about offering heart screenings, but advocacy. In September 2019, their efforts helped pass a mandatory heart screening policy across Brevard County Public Schools and they’re now asking Florida state legislators to have it done in the entire state.

“That’s what we’re trying to get America to do. It should not be that hard to do, it’s common sense,” Ernst said.

Who We Play For is currently raising funds to continue its mission. Its Now or Never campaign hopes to raise $1 million to support legislature efforts so all 67 counties in Florida will include heart screening for young athletes in schools.

To make a donation or read more on Who Play For, click here.

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