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West teens take time out for heart test

Volunteer nurse Kathy Marek briefs volunteers Thursday before beginning cardiac screening Young Hearts For Life program West AurorHigh School.

Volunteer nurse Kathy Marek briefs volunteers Thursday before beginning cardiac screening in the Young Hearts For Life program at West Aurora High School.

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Updated: March 16, 2013 6:10AM

AURORA — Fourteen-year-old Jacob Chaurize pulled up his shirt and stood still while a smiling woman attached conductive tape strips to his chest, arms and ankles. After a short wait, two men beckoned him to a gurney, where he lay down and watched them clip electrodes to the tape strips. A machine next to him hummed and buzzed, a printer rattled out several graphs, and soon the teen was detached from the wires and back with his friends on the bleachers.

All in all, Thursday wasn’t a typical day in gym class for the West Aurora High School freshman and more than 1,000 of his schoolmates. But the free electrocardiograms they received could save them from keeling over in a gym or playing field someday.

“I’m really glad to do this,” Chaurize said. “It’s something I’ve thought about, especially in recent years when I’ve read stories about young athletes collapsing from undiagnosed heart problems.”

More than 7,000 children collapse from sudden cardiac arrest in the U.S. each year, according to the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Association. More than 90 percent of those children die on the field.

To prevent more such deaths, Young Hearts for Life organizes screening drives at Chicago-area high schools and colleges to provide free ECG tests to students. Founded by Advocate Health Systems, the nonprofit group has run drives at several high schools in the Fox Valley, including Waubonsie Valley, Geneva, Oswego, St. Charles, Naperville North and Neuqua Valley, as well as at Aurora University.

For the screenings, West High physical education teacher Meghan Hill helped recruit and train nearly 200 volunteers, including parents of West students, area medical professionals and civic-minded residents.

Volunteers spent two hours before the event learning how to administer the tests.

“They tried to make it as simple as possible,” noted volunteer Bettina Sailer as she clipped lead wires to the tape tabs, called “stickies”, on Chaurize’s chest. “I was nervous even after the training, but now I’m pretty confident.”

Students weren’t quite as confident as they lined up for the tests.

“It’s a little scary because they have to put little wires on you, which sounds like it should hurt,” said freshman Laura Hajost, waiting in front of the curtained booths in which girls had their chest stickies applied. “But most of my friends are doing it, and it seems like a good idea.”

“I’m nervous about it,” confessed freshman Jacob Bailey, “but if it ends up saving my life, I’ll be happy.”

Hill said she plans to organize another ECG screening drive at West High in 2015.

“We want to do this every two years so that each student gets screened twice, because young adults can develop heart problems within that time frame,” she explained.

Two doctors on site read each ECG printout to check for abnormal results and for mechanical failures. They reported abnormal test results immediately to the student’s parents and physician; normal test results will be mailed to students’ home addresses, Hill said.

“I don’t know if we’ve found any abnormal results yet,” Hill said, “but even if we don’t get any, just knowing that will make the screenings worth it.”

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