Politics & Government

Bill seeks to educate schools, athletes about sudden cardiac arrest

State lawmakers are seeking to raise awareness among Washington youth about sudden cardiac arrest, the leading cause of sudden death in young athletes.

Senate Bill 5083 calls for the creation of an informational pamphlet about sudden cardiac arrest—a condition in which the heart unexpectedly stops—that details symptoms, warning signs and ways to prevent it from happening. The pamphlet would be displayed on the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction’s website, and made available to the state’s school districts and student athletes.

“[Students] need to know what their heart is doing,” said Darla Verrenti, who testified on the bill Thursday. “It’s not enough that we, as parents, protect them with helmets, seat belts, and all of the different kind of things we do, but we don’t protect their hearts like we should.”

Verrenti is the executive director of the Nick of Time Foundation, an organization named for her son, Nicholas, a former Mill Creek resident who died of sudden cardiac arrest in Pennsylvania in 2004 after a weekend of playing football. Her foundation has educated hundreds of schools about the condition and provides youth heart screenings and training for students in CPR.

The bill requires school districts hold a meeting at the beginning of each year with students participating in athletics, notifying them about sudden cardiac arrest, and the risks they face in sports.

Students would sign a form stating they reviewed the online pamphlet before participating in athletic activities, and coaches would be required to complete an online sudden cardiac arrest prevention program every four years.

Verrenti said the bill is all about raising awareness about the condition, which typically doesn’t show signs of being present in an athlete until it is too late.

CPR knowledge came in handy in 2012 when Spencer Best, of Longview, collapsed on his high school gym floor playing basketball. Best, who testified in support of the bill Thursday, said he was clinically dead for nearly eight minutes, but his coach was able to perform CPR until a defibrillator arrived to revive him.

“With this bill, we can prepare a whole new group of potential lifesavers,” he said.

The bill is similar to a concussion awareness act that passed in 2009, known as the Lystedt Law for Zackery Lystedt, a former Tahoma High School student who suffered a brain injury in football in 2006. That law requires school districts to distribute information about concussions and head injuries in sports, and have students sign a similar form before participating in sports.

Mike Colbrese, executive director of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, said he’d love to see the Lystedt Law work as a model for Senate Bill 5083, noting that the Lystedt Law provides information to both public and private schools, as well as youth sports leagues.

“We don’t need any more pain,” Colbrese said of the issue of sudden cardiac arrest. “We need to move forward and make sure that we’re doing what’s best.”