Students screened in ‘Nick of Time’

Students take part in
Students take part in 'Nick of Time.'
— image credit: Joseph Livarchik / Staff Photo

When a student stopped in the Mercer Island High School main office to hand in his registration paperwork for a heart health screening set for the next day, he said that he did not know what the testing was all about.  All he knew was his mother said he had to do it.

That’s exactly why the Nick of Time  Foundation does this.

The student was one of over two hundred people who lined up for screening at the Nick of Time Foundation’s heart health screening Wednesday, Dec. 4 at Mercer Island High School.  The foundation travels around Washington, conducting heart health screenings and raising awareness about sudden cardiac arrest (SCA).

“SCA can happen at any age,” said Suzanne Apodaca, Nick of Time director of operations. “It is the leading cause of death among exercising and at-play youth. It is an epidemic.”

Nick of Time was created in honor of Nicholas Varrenti. Everything appeared normal for the 16-year old Varrenti, a high school athlete who loved playing football. But in 2004, Varrenti went to sleep and never woke up. His family later learned Nick was a victim of SCA. After his death, Varrenti’s family vowed to make a difference with their efforts toward preventing SCA. In 2006, Nick’s mother Darla Varrenti founded the Nick of Time Foundation to raise awareness about SCA and help increase the placement of  Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs). She named the foundation after her son.

The foundation partners with physicians and volunteers, with their main medical partners in the Seattle area being UW Medicine and Seattle’s Children’s Hospital.

At the heart health screenings, physicians take blood pressure, listen to the heart, take an EKG and teach CPR. If the physicians don’t like what they see, they have the patient set up for an echocardiogram.

Apodaca, who was Varrenti’s aunt, said Nick of Time has screened 9,400 kids in three years, finding about 300 with abnormalities.

Studies vary on the actual incidence and risk of SCA in young adults and children. All studies agree that the risk of sudden cardiac arrest and death among youth is extremely low. Some studies indicate that majority of cases of SCA is caused by underlying heart conditions, yet there is no formal accounting of these types of deaths in youth. However, other studies suggest that with or without existing cardiac problems, the risk for athletes is greater.

Apodaca said there is a three-year waiting list for the Nick of Time Foundation to visit schools, and that the foundation came to Mercer Island at the request of Mercer Island resident Eric Rothenberg, who contacted Nick of Time back in 2010.

Rothenberg is a survivor of SCA. He was 42 years old when he collapsed at the Mercer Island Community Center in 2009 while playing tennis. Two MICC members, both of whom happened to be doctors, responded quickly. Dr. Alan Geltzer and Dr. Niraj Patel administered CPR and were able to use the MICC defibrillator to jumpstart Rothenberg’s heart while waiting for the EMT team to arrive.

The foundation’s team of physicians and volunteers screened 218 people Wednesday at MIHS, finding seven students who needed follow-up based on their findings.

It’s not a law in Washington to have defibrillators in schools, something for which the foundation has lobbied. While Mercer Island schools have AEDS, Apodaca said about half of all schools don’t have defibrillators.

Experts say that having an AED nearby is crucial toward saving an SCA victim’s life. For each minute that goes by without defibrillation, a cardiac arrest victim’s survival rate decreases by 10 percent.

“It’s vital for everyone to know CPR and to have AEDs in public places,” said Apodaca. “Parents can make sure schools have defibrillators, and [make sure] their kids are trained to perform CPR in case of emergency, and they get their child’s heart screened.”


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