Providence Health and Services is asking parents to play it safe by getting their children’s hearts checked, and they have the opportunity to do so through the healthcare organization’s free Play Smart Youth Heart Screenings program that recently has been offered on the North Coast.

Providence held its third heart screening event at the coast from 4 to 7 p.m., May 20, at Astoria’s Providence Heart Clinic, 1355 Exchange St.

The Play Smart program is for people 12 to 18. Cardiologists will give painless, noninvasive screenings to teenagers to check their heart health. The free screening includes an electrocardiogram, blood pressure reading and height and weight check. If the results show a potential problem, students can get a free echocardiogram.

“We are trying to prevent heart disease by identifying risk factors in kids,” but the screenings are used to help detect and diagnose a number of potential cardiac issues, Hibsch said.

The program received about $10,800 as a donation from the Oregon Logging Conference’s annual Ladies’ Desserts for Dreams fundraiser held as part of the conference in Eugene in February. Judy Nygaard, the wife of then OLC President David Nygaard, chose Play Smart as the beneficiary because her family has a personal connection to issue.

On June 12, 1998, 15-year-old Andrew Nygaard, a swimming and track standout who had recently graduated from Astoria Middle School, died suddenly of heart problems during a swim practice for the North Coast Swim Club in Seaside. Multiple tests conducted after his death could not detect a specific cause, but it was related to a cardiac problem, Judy Nygaard said.

Andrew’s death was unexpected – he was physically fit and had no apparent medical issues. He was doing light dry land drills when his death occurred. Judy Nygaard said she was on her way to pick up her son when she received the call. She is now an advocate for youth heart screenings.

“I think people just don’t know how important this is,” she said. “When it comes to the heart, it doesn’t matter if your child is active or healthy or physically fit – they need to be screened, because for us, there weren’t any warning signs.”

Even when children have physical examinations prior to participation in sports, they don’t include heart screenings. Unfortunately, when it comes to cardiac issues, if medical attention is reactive rather than preventative, it’s too late, Judy Nygaard said.

As the wife of the conference president, she was responsible for planning the Desserts for Dreams fundraiser. She selected a sports theme, given that the screenings are particularly targeted toward student athletes. Her daughter, Melissa Svensen, helped with decorations. About 40 community businesses donated desserts for the event. In donating the money to Providence for Play Smart, Judy Nygaard’s only request was that they would offer screenings at the North Coast.

The hospital held two prior Play Smart events in the area on Jan. 21 at Providence Seaside Hospital and Feb. 4 in Astoria. Between the two clinics, 123 students were served. Of the 123 students screened, 95 were in the normal range for their age; two were recommended to get the additional echocardiogram screening for more information; and 26 were identified as having elevated blood pressures.

All the youth received the results of their screenings, Hibsch said. Those who had elevated blood pressure were given recommendations for further care and treatment with their healthcare practitioners. Dr. Robert Morse, a cardiologist, followed up with parents and did phone consultations to give recommendations.

Providence Health & Services started its Play Smart program in June 2012. The screenings have been “highly beneficial,” Hibsch said.

“It’s one of those things where everybody benefits,” she added. “There is no down side to screening kids.”

To date, more than 6,000 youth have been screened at more than 60 school and community based events, and the screenings have identified about 300 students that needed further assessment and treatment of various cardiac issues. Sometimes personnel from other healthcare organizations will volunteer for the Play Smart clinics.

Hibsch works with school nurses to get them engaged and to disseminate information to students about the screenings. For the North Coast screenings, she has worked with the Astoria, Knappa, Seaside and Warrenton school districts.

“We’re going to have another push to try to drive awareness in the schools” before the May 20 event, she said.

One of the biggest challenges for the hospital is to get information to parents about the screenings so they will bring their children or sign consent forms for their children to be screened. Anyone younger than 18 must get a parent’s or guardian’s signature since it’s a medical procedure, she said. The hospital encourages all people who work with youth to send out reminders about the screenings through emails, newsletters and other means.

In other areas served by Providence, such as the Portland-metro area, the screenings are sometimes offered directly in schools.

“We do have plans in the future to have the screenings at one of the high schools” on the North Coast, Hibsch said, adding it’s just a matter of selecting which school and promoting the event.

Each screening takes about 10 minutes. Youth and their families will receive the results in about two weeks. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 503-216-6800 or visit www.playsmartgetscreened.org. Consent forms can be found online.

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