Rhina and Hector Paredes have turned the tragic loss of their teenage son into an opportunity to put better health safeguards in place for other local children.
Rhina Paredes, a registered nurse at Scripps Health, had no idea her athletic 15-year-old son Eric had a heart condition until he unexpectedly passed away from sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) in July 2009.
People who are at high risk for SCA can be diagnosed through simple tests such as an electrocardiogram (EKG), which measures the heart’s electrical activity, or an echocardiogram, which is essentially an ultrasound of the heart.
But for parents who have no reason to suspect their child is anything but healthy, such screening tests are not easy to come by.
“Unless there are signs and symptoms of a heart problem, insurance companies typically don’t cover screening tests for children and teens,” Rhina Paredes says. “Unfortunately, more than 7,000 kids die every year from sudden cardiac arrest. An EKG should be part of any comprehensive sports physical.”
The Paredes family established the Eric Paredes Save a Life Foundation to prevent SCA in school-age children and adolescents.
One of its priorities is providing free cardiac screenings to San Diego student-athletes and making automated external defibrillators (AEDs) available in schools.
With the aid of volunteer partners such as Scripps cardiologist John Rogers, MD and sponsors including Scripps Health, San Diego Project Heartbeat and Cardiac Science, the Eric Paredes Save a Life Foundation hosted its inaugural screening event at Steele Canyon High School in Spring Valley — where Eric was a student — on Aug. 28, 2010.
Since that time, the Save a Life Foundation has screened nearly 2,200 students at four areas high schools. Participants were given EKGs and those with abnormal results received echocardiograms. Thanks to the screenings, 45 students have been identified with heart anomalies and 25 were deemed at risk for SCA.
According to Dr. Rogers, most athletic physicals for pre-participation screening are inadequate. A heart rhythm problem can be detected in an EKG, but that is not included in a yearly exam – something Dr. Rogers believes should be changed.
“Only by increasing public awareness will we help make people realize that this is a real problem,” says Dr. Rogers. “It’s the number one reason we as human beings die.”
Learn more about future screening events and other foundation efforts.