MORRIS – As a student at Morris Community High School during the 2016-17 school year, Chris Duffy almost didn’t go to the Rhythm of Our Youth screening.
He was supposed to, but he forgot he signed up, and when he remembered it at the last minute, he debated.
“I was very on the fence,” Duffy said. “I wanted my study hall.”
He went, and it was a decision that probably saved his life. The next day he received a call saying some irregularities were found in the electrocardiogram.
Further tests with his own doctor and specialists confirmed that he had Marfan syndrome, a disease that could result in a ruptured aorta if not treated and monitored properly.
The free Rhythm of Our Youth cardiac screening program is provided by Morris Hospital and Healthcare Centers and is funded by donors to the Morris Hospital Foundation.
On the screening days, a team of specially trained volunteers from Morris Hospital perform electrocardiogram screenings for free to students who have received parental permission to participate.
The program launched in 2016, and since then, 4,500 students have gone through the screening process.
“An electrocardiogram is a noninvasive, painless test that measures the electrical activity of the heart and detects certain heart abnormalities that can lead to sudden cardiac death,” according to a Morris Hospital news release about the program. “The test takes about three minutes to complete. Based on results of the screenings, about 3 percent of students are referred to their physician for additional follow-up.
“Typically, less than 1 percent are found to have a medical problem that requires cardiac intervention. Results are sent home to the student’s parents and are not shared with the school.”
“It was a good on-the-spot decision,” Duffy said.
He now attends North Central College in Naperville, studying broadcast journalism. He said choosing his college was kind of on a whim, too, so those decisions seem to work out for him. Marfan syndrome is a condition that affects connective tissue, according to the Mayo Clinic.
“[It involves] the fibers that support and anchor your organs and other structures in your body. Marfan syndrome most commonly affects the heart, eyes, blood vessels and skeleton,” the clinic’s website reads.
Duffy said his last checkup showed that his aorta was larger and that he probably would need to have it replaced to prevent it from rupturing. However, by monitoring his condition, he’s able to avoid otherwise unforeseen complications.
“Sudden cardiac death claims more than 2,000 lives of children and adolescents in the United States each year,” said Jori Christensen, director of cardiovascular services at Morris Hospital and Healthcare Centers. “Most victims of sudden cardiac death have had underlying heart conditions that could have been detected through a simple electrocardiogram. Our goal is to help identify students who may have an undiagnosed heart problem before a serious incident occurs.”
Upcoming school visits
This fall, Rhythm of Our Youth cardiac screenings already have been held at Gardner-South Wilmington High School and Coal City High School. Future dates include Morris High School on Sept. 18; Newark High School on Oct. 10; and Seneca High School on Nov. 27. Screenings typically are held during physical education class or study hall.
The 2018-19 schedule also includes Minooka High School – South Campus on Feb. 5 and 6, Premier Academy on Feb. 13, and Minooka High School – Central Campus on Feb. 20 and 21.
Parents should complete an electronic consent form before the screening day at their child’s school by going to www.morrishospital.org/rhythmofouryouth.
Volunteers are needed on each screening date and must be at least 18 years old, pass a background check and attend a mandatory training session.
To volunteer at the screening, call 815-705-7022 or complete the volunteer sign-up form at morrishospital.org/rhythmofouryouth.