Free cardiac screenings at St. Francis

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Q. Can you tell readers about St. Francis Hospital's free cardiac screenings for high school athletes?

A. The Heart Center at St. Francis Hospital in Greenvale has been offering screenings for athletes in grades 9 to 12 to assess potential cardiac abnormalities that might put a strain on an athlete's heart when he or she is playing sports. The point is to try to catch anything that might indicate a child is at risk for sudden cardiac arrest during a game.

"We're looking for the things that cause sudden death in an otherwise healthy kid," says Dr. Ambrose Vallone of Pediatric Cardiology of Long Island in Roslyn. "This kind of rules out major things we know can cause it."

Parental Guidance stopped by a screening in December to check it out. Each kid dons a hospital gown that opens at the front, and then has an electrocardiogram (EKG), which entails having wires stuck briefly to their chest area to monitor the heart's electrical activity. Then, each has an echocardiogram, which involves putting some goo on the chest and belly so a technician can use an ultrasound wand to provide an image of the heart on a screen. Lastly, a pediatric cardiologist assesses the findings and meets with the parent and child right then to indicate whether any additional evaluation is needed. The process takes about an hour.

Screenings are scheduled for every month; the next one is from 6 to 9 p.m. Jan. 23. To reserve a spot, call the hospital's Community Outreach department at 516-629-2013.

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