Copyright 2003 The Austin American Statesman
Austin American-Statesman (Texas)

May 15, 2003, Thursday

SECTION: News; Pg. A14

LENGTH: 505 words

HEADLINE: Free heart screenings will help protect athletes


When Luling High School football player Steven Taylor died of sudden heart
failure in 2001, there was a general acknowledgement that young athletes in
strenuous sports should be screened for heart problems.

Another high school football player, Will Benson, a quarterback at St.
Stephen's School, died after suffering a head injury during a game last year.
After lobbying by his father, Dick Benson, bills have been filed to increase
emergency training for coaches and athletes, and to recommend a heart screening
for every athlete.

House Bill 3356 and Senate Bill 1444, filed by Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos,
D-Austin, would cost little and ensure that there are people trained in
emergency medicine at every high school sporting event. These are good bills
that would provide a safety cushion for high school athletes that could save
their lives.

Taylor died of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), which affects about one in
500 people and is the leading cause of sudden cardiac death in young people. HCM
can be easily detected by a 5-minute echocardiogram screening, but the testing
is too expensive for school districts to administer, and it isn't covered by
most health care plans.

But two local institutions, Schlotzsky's Deli and the Austin Heart
Foundation, stepped into the breach. Saturday, for the third year in a row, they
are offering free heart screenings at the Heart Hospital, 38th Street and Lamar
Boulevard, from 8 a.m. until noon for high school athletes 15 to 18 years old.
That's the same test the bills filed in Will Benson's name recommends.

Local cardiologists are donating their time to screen student athletes on the
three mobile machines owned by Schlotzsky's. Last year, 688 teenagers were
screened, and 17 were referred for additional testing because of detected heart
abnormalities, testing that may have saved lives.

Since Taylor's death, three other high school athletes have died in Texas.
Saturday's Healthy Heart Fest is an opportunity for local athletes to make sure
their hearts are up to the strain of the sports they play.

Heart screenings will be available at other locations in 15 Central Texas
counties in June and July, and a second screening will be held in Austin on Aug.
9. Screening dates also will be available in Georgetown, Bastrop, Leander, San
Marcos, Llano and Killeen. Athletes must be accompanied by an adult or bring a
signed parental release form with them.

Any high school athlete involved in strenuous or high-impact sports should
take advantage of the free screening. And they should thank Schlotzsky's and the
Heart Hospital of Austin for providing a test that can save young lives.

Quicker recognition of Benson's symptoms might have saved his life, too. The
bills being supported in his name will give coaches and athletes training in
recognizing problems and how to respond to them.

ON THE WEB: For more information or to obtain a parental release form, go to or call the Championship Hearts Hotline at

GRAPHIC: Will Benson

LOAD-DATE: May 16, 2003