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HEADLINE: At school, recalling a classmate who died...

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Tim Stewart Find out more about Tim Stewart
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  • HEADLINE: At school, recalling a classmate who died...

    Copyright 2003 Philadelphia Inquirer
    All Rights Reserved
    Philadelphia Inquirer

    May 10, 2003 Saturday CITY-D EDITION

    SECTION: PHILADELPHIA; Pg. B01

    LENGTH: 851 words

    HEADLINE: At school, recalling a classmate who died;
    The Germantown High ninth grader had a heart condition. He collapsed while
    playing basketball during gym class.

    BYLINE: By Susan Snyder and Susan FitzGerald; Inquirer Staff Writers

    BODY:
    Fifteen-year-old Robert Scales loved basketball. He loved to watch it and
    play it.

    On Thursday morning, it killed him.

    Scales, who suffered from a heart condition, collapsed and died while playing
    basketball during gym class at Germantown High School.

    "Basketball, he loved it," his brother Antonio, 17, said yesterday outside
    the family's East Walnut Lane home. "He loved watching the games on the TV. He
    loved the [Sacramento] Kings."

    Scales, a ninth grader, was playing despite a doctor's note in his student
    file that said he should not take gym class because of hypertrophic
    cardiomyopathy, a condition that can cause an irregular heartbeat during
    physical exertion. An autopsy by the Philadelphia Medical Examiner's Office
    confirmed the cause of death was cardiomyopathy.

    Scales' mother declined to comment yesterday.

    School officials are investigating why the teen was participating in gym
    class, which he apparently had been doing all year, because he had received a
    grade for it.

    Asked whether his mother had given him permission to participate, district
    spokeswoman Cecilia Cummings said: "We don't have any indication of that at this
    time."

    The medical note, which was from 2000, was in Scales' file in the school's
    office, but the school nurse said she was not aware of it, Cummings said. Such
    notices normally are given to the nurse for "appropriate review and follow-up,"
    she said.

    Scales had been a student at Germantown since the beginning of the school
    year. Before that, he attended Roosevelt Middle School, and preliminary
    information indicates that he also took gym there, Cummings said.

    Paul G. Vallas, the district's chief executive officer, issued a memo
    yesterday to all school principals and school nurses, urging them to review
    procedures and be sure that health and emergency plans were on file and followed
    for any student with special needs.

    Germantown ninth-grade students and teachers spent much of yesterday
    reminiscing about Scales. Counselors were available to assist.

    Some students read poems; one sang "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye" by Boyz II
    Men.

    "It was an impromptu memorial," said Doug Elmer, a curriculum coach who spent
    yesterday in Scales' classes.

    An English teacher read entries from Scales' journal. In one, the youth
    described why his mother was his best friend: "She was always there for him,"
    Elmer said.

    Another described how Scales was working very hard in school and keeping his
    mind set on the future. The teenager was to receive an award at the end of the
    year for best attendance in an after-school tutoring program, Elmer said.

    In a third entry, he pretended to be Romeo, writing a letter to Juliet. That
    drew smiles from classmates.

    "Robert was known to his classmates as a bit of a ladies' man," Elmer said.

    The students also talked about Scales' love for basketball. "Apparently he
    played almost every day, just with friends in the neighborhood," Elmer said.

    His smile was his trademark. "I don't think I ever saw him without a smile,"
    Elmer said.

    Antonio Scales agreed.

    "Every time he comes to school, he's got the biggest smile, just like his big
    brother, like I do," he said.

    Scales liked to be called D.J., for David Junior, from his father's name.

    About 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Scales collapsed in the gymnasium, which was
    filled with about 60 other students. School personnel tried to revive him, and
    emergency workers responded within six minutes, but he died at Albert Einstein
    Medical Center a short time later.

    Scales' condition, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, is usually inherited and
    present at birth, though it may not be detected until later, said Brad Robinson,
    acting chief of cardiology at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children in
    Philadelphia.

    The wall between the heart's two pumping chambers, the ventricles, is
    thickened, setting up a potentially deadly condition in which the heart can go
    into a dangerous abnormal rhythm during physical exertion.

    While deaths from this condition are rare, "hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is
    the number-one cause of sudden, unexpected cardiac death in childhood," Robinson
    said.

    In some cases, the first indication of the condition is sudden death. Other
    times, the problem is detected when a child experiences chest pain or fainting
    during exercise, or when a doctor listening with a stethoscope hears a
    suspicious heart murmur.

    Most heart murmurs, however, are not worrisome and are not caused by
    hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, Robinson said. Ultrasound is used to make a firm
    diagnosis.

    If one family member is diagnosed, the others should be checked.

    He said doctors advise patients with the condition to avoid strenuous
    activity and stick to light activity: golfing, for example, or bowling.

    Last month, the school district received a $100,000 donation for 73 portable
    automated external defibrillators, which can restore the heart's normal rhythm,
    for the city's high schools and gyms.

    Although some of those devices had gone out to schools, Germantown does not
    have one.

    Contact staff writer Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or [email protected]

    LOAD-DATE: May 10, 2003
    Thanks, Tim
    Forum Administrator

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