Updated Screening Measures Will Help Identify At-Risk Students
TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Fred Madden (D – Gloucester/Camden) that would help prevent sudden cardiac arrest among student athletes was signed into law today. The bill, S-1912, entitled the “Scholastic Student Athlete Safety Act,” would establish advance screening methods for students in grades six to 12 who participate in interscholastic or intramural sports to identify heart conditions that could cause sudden death.
“In this day and age, it is simply irresponsible to have students engaging in physical activity without knowing about underlying medical conditions that may put them at heightened risk of heart failure,” said Senator Madden. “When the health of our children is at stake, we must strive to use the most comprehensive screening measures possible. We have an obligation to protect the safety of our student athletes, and this law will help save lives throughout the state of New Jersey.”
The law requires student athletes in public and private schools to be examined for heart conditions that could cause sudden cardiac arrest. The exam will include a Pre-participation Physical Evaluation Form, developed jointly by the six major American medical societies. In addition, the law directs the Commissioner of Education to develop a pamphlet that provides information about sudden cardiac arrest, a description of early warning signs, and an overview of screening options. The pamphlet will be distributed to student athletes and their parents as a part of the student’s pre-participation examination and completion of athletic permission forms.
The law also calls for the Department of Education to create a training program for health professionals who perform the student evaluations to keep them updated on the best ways to identify at-risk athletes. Under the law, all health professionals who perform a student-athlete’s annual medical examination prior to the student’s participation in a school-sponsored athletic team will be required to complete the training program as a condition of licensure renewal.
According to medical experts, most fatalities in adolescent athletes are caused by underlying congenital cardiac anomalies, primarily hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. The American Heart Association recommends the use of physical exams, a review of personal and family history, and greater awareness as the most effective screening techniques.
“By enhancing screenings and training for medical professionals, we can identify heart conditions in student athletes before it is too late,” said Madden. “This landmark legislation, along with several other bills I have sponsored, will shine new light on the issue of heart disease in our young people. Implementing these measures will help to prevent future instances of cardiac arrest and even death.”
In Trenton, Senator Madden has been the leading advocate for measures to protect the health and safety of student athletes in New Jersey. In 2009, the Legislature responded to growing concern over the increase of sudden deaths in student athletes by passing Senator Madden’s legislation, which established the “New Jersey Student Athlete Cardiac Screening Task Force.” The task force was given the responsibility of studying, evaluating, and developing recommendations related to enhancing screening measures for life-threatening cardiac conditions and identifying ways to prevent the sudden and tragic deaths of those at risk.
Following through on recommendations of the task force, Senator Madden authored a package of bills, including the “Children’s Sudden Cardiac Events Reporting Act,” which would require the reporting of children’s sudden cardiac events and establish a statewide database to keep track of the information, as well as measures to expand procedures for all annual health screenings performed on children and require certain health insurers to provide coverage for physical exams that determine if a student is able to participate in athletic or camp activities.
The law goes into effect four months following the date of enactment.