VOLUME 22 #3

Current cover

click here to view pdf



Student-athletes won't miss a beat

Foundation offers free screenings

Firestone at a screening Firestone speaking to a paramedic
Tyler Jacobsen
At a recent screening at Christiana High School, a student (top) has an EKG, while Greer Firestone speaks with a paramedic.

ALUMNI | When it comes to matters of the heart, Greer Firestone, AS69, knows that detection is key. Firestone is dedicated to detecting medical heart conditions in a demographic of the population with which they are not conventionally associated.

“Sudden cardiac arrest is the No. 1 cause of death of student-athletes during sports participation,” he says.

In June 2011, his teenage daughter, a lifelong athlete, suddenly collapsed and her heart stopped beating. Thanks to immediate medical attention, she survived and is currently a thriving senior at UD.

But many who suffer from sudden cardiac arrest are not so lucky. The condition results in a ceased heartbeat that prevents blood flow to the vital organs. If not treated immediately, death is likely to occur in a matter of minutes, according to the National Institutes of Health website.

“What can I do so that this doesn’t happen to other families?” Firestone says about his efforts to spare Delawareans from the terror of sudden cardiac arrest.

Heart in The Game is a foundation Firestone established to generate awareness of sudden cardiac arrest. Through it, he hopes to provide resources and education to schools throughout the state, ultimately providing free electrocardiogram, or EKG, screenings to every middle and high school student in Delaware.

Since its founding, several Heart in The Game events have been held.

“Initially, each event had two legs,” Firestone says. “We provide a free EKG screening to every student in attendance, while also offering basic [resuscitation] training.”

An EKG is a relatively simple test that measures heart activity, but it is not routinely performed. “EKGs are not part of a physical exam and can cost $100 in a pediatrician’s office, if not more,” Firestone says.

Preventive testing is crucial in detecting heart abnormalities that could lead to sudden cardiac arrest, especially since the condition can strike with no warning signs.

For Brandywine High School student Joseph Till, Heart in The Game has been life-saving. In January 2014, Till and his family attended the inaugural Heart in The Game event and took advantage of the free EKG screenings. Pediatric cardiologists on hand for the event noticed some abnormalities in Till’s results and suggested follow-up tests.

Till was diagnosed with a heart condition known as Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome and underwent a nine-hour surgery. After a speedy recovery, he is now healthy and has resumed his athletic passions, says Firestone.

In addition to the free screenings, both parents and students can receive basic CPR and automated external defibrillator (AED) training at each Heart in The Game event. After calling for immediate medical help, knowledge of CPR and AED can play a major role in the survival of someone suffering from sudden cardiac arrest, according to Firestone.

“I asked New Castle County Executive Tom Gordon if he would offer his paramedics for this training,” he says. “Immediately, he said yes.”

The community has played a major role in efforts to thwart sudden cardiac arrest, including a freshly enacted piece of legislation designed to protect and educate student-athletes.

Firestone leveraged his relationships with state politicians, the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association (DIAA), nurses and teachers to draft a resolution and rally support for the Grace Firestone Act. State Sens. Cathy Cloutier and Bethany Hall-Long (also a professor in UD’s School of Nursing) co-sponsored the bill.

On Aug. 25, 2014, Gov. Jack Markell signed the bill. The legislation requires the DIAA to create regulations to better identify at-risk student-athletes and educate coaches and officials on sudden cardiac arrest.

“Things are rocking and rolling now, and we have the support of the community,” says Firestone. “I’ve been thrilled that we’ve made such progress with Heart in The Game in this short amount of time.”

Today, the foundation is expanding its statewide mission. Westside Family Healthcare, a nonprofit equal-access healthcare center, is a new partner. At a September event open to all students at Christiana High School, attendees received free blood pressure and body mass index readings in addition to the initial offerings.

“Now, we’ve gone from two legs to four,” Firestone says. “At future screenings, AAA will have a station to speak about their important ‘Drink, Drive, Disaster’ campaign.

“I think it’s important to expand our mission so that we can go throughout the state and really make a difference in people’s health.”

For more information, visit heartinthegame.org.

Article by Kelley Bregenzer, AS12

  • University of Delaware   •   Newark, DE 19716   •   USA   •   Phone: (302) 831-2792   •   © 2018