Brock Reuther died as a result of a sudden cardiac arrest experienced while playing volleyball at his Alberta High School in May of 2012. Since that day Brock’s Mom, Kim has been advocating for programs to prevent other families from experiencing the pain the Reuther’s have gone through and it has been, to say the least, an uphill battle.

I was speaking with Kim this week and shared with her two comparators that I often use when speaking about preventing sudden cardiac arrest in youth. She asked if I could send them to her in writing, so here they are.

The HPV (Gardasil™) Vaccine vs. ECG Screening for Heart Arrhythmia

In August of 2007 the Government of Ontario announced it will be spending $39 million to provide every Grade 8 girl in the province with the vaccine for Human Papillomavirus (HPV) which is known to be a cause of many cervical cancers. That works out to a little over $400.00 per child. Cervical cancer claims the lives of 150 women of all ages in Ontario each year and is the second most common type of cancer in women between ages 22 and 44.  This is an expensive but worthwhile prevention program that will assuredly save young lives.

For many years patient advocate groups in Canada have been seeking funding and support for a pilot study into ECG screening of young teens. Many advocates would like to see the screening process include Echocardiogram as well. Published studies show that ECG alone can be over 80% effective at identifying children at-risk for sudden cardiac arrest and when Echo is added screening will identify over 90% of those at-risk.  The tests are non or minimally invasive and very inexpensive. The Ontario Health Insurance Plan billing code for an ECG to be acquired and read by a physician is $11.05. A targeted Echo is a little more expensive at $33.50.  For 10% of the cost of an HPV vaccine we could protect all young people from a far more prevalent and preventable cause of death – Sudden Cardiac Arrest.

A $250,000 grant would easily fund a pilot study that could gather, study, analyze, weigh the values and publish the results of screening tests for over 5,000 youngsters. Every year 700 young people die suddenly of cardiac causes in Canada – 200 in Ontario, 65 in British Columbia, 60 in Alberta, etcetera.   An ECG/ECHO screening program for teenagers is relatively inexpensive and assuredly would save hundreds of young Canadians from sudden death.

Note: ECG screening of elite athletes in northern Italy has reduced 
sudden cardiac arrest deaths in that population by 89%.

Anaphylaxis Awareness vs. Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness

In the spring of 2012 I gave a talk on Recognizing and Managing Cardiovascular Emergencies to 250 Human Resources professionals from across Ontario. A portion of the talk included a discussion of cardiac arrest in youth.

  • I asked for a show of hands to the question “How many of you know that you cannot send a child to school with peanut products in their lunch?” Virtually every hand in the room went up.
  • I then asked “How many of you know that “fainting” is a common warning sign of a potentially lethal heart rhythm disorder?” Perhaps 10 hands went up.
  • I then asked “How many kids in Ontario will die this year from peanut allergies?” The answer is probably none, perhaps one and if it is a very bad year two.  Note : 2 deaths in ON since 2010
  • Finally I asked “How many young people will die in Ontario this year as a result of Sudden Cardiac Arrest?” The answer is 200 – a palpable buzz went through the room.

It is fantastic that the Provincial Government and the School Boards that it funds have invested so much money, time and effort into creating universal awareness and compliance for strategies for preventing two or three peanut allergy deaths each decade. It is frustrating and nonsensical that the same Government and the same School Boards have invested virtually nothing into awareness and prevention strategies for the most common cause of death on school properties and the most common medical cause of death amongst Ontario children.

Every patient advocate probably believes that research and programming for their disease is underfunded. Those of us working to protect the lives of children at-risk for Sudden Cardiac Arrest can look around and see tens of millions of dollars being spent on prevention strategies for diseases that cause less than 1% of the suffering brought on by Heart Arrhythmia Diseases. We would never want or ask Governments and other Funders to cut back that spending, we are simply asking them to listen to our story and act on our requests for similar consideration. Again this year 700 young Canadians will die suddenly of cardiac causes, many of those deaths should be prevented.