They were friends and classmates, and now united forever as teammates by a less common bond – forged when a lacrosse player took the field to save his friend’s life.
Earlier this year during practice, an Oregon high school lacrosse player was struck in the chest by a fast-moving pass – the timing was exquisite and deadly. The ball struck his sternum at precisely the wrong moment, stimulating a cascade of electrical events in his heart that provoked a sudden cardiac arrest.
Teammate Ben Wu came to rescue to help save his teammate’s life. As a student in the Beaverton (Oregon) School District Health Careers Program, he had been trained in health assessments, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), and the importance of having an automated external defibrillator (AED) on hand during such a critical moment.
Since Wu had recently undergone his own heart screening, he had first-hand knowledge and the risk of sudden cardiac arrest, which is the No. 1 cause of death in student athletes.
Play Smart Youth Heart Screenings is a free program sponsored by Providence Heart Institute at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland, Oregon, a multi-state integrated health-care system. Dr. James Beckerman, cardiologist and medical director, and Lydia Hibsch, MA, manager of business development and operations manager of the Play Smart Youth Heart Screenings Program, started Play Smart in 2012 in the wake of multiple tragic events in their own community.
Play Smart provides free blood pressure screenings, electrocardiograms (EKGs) and cardiac ultrasounds (as needed) to youth from ages 12 to 18. During the past six years, the program has screened more than 25,000 kids, identifying about 1,300 with asymptomatic cardiac conditions and elevated blood pressure.
“When we started Play Smart, we expected to screen the majority of kids at our hospital,” Beckerman said. “After all, that’s where we see our patients. But after just a few months, we realized that if we wanted to make the greatest impact, we needed to go where the kids are – at school.”
And so began the process of partnering with local schools and community organizations to provide on-site screenings. Since 2012, Play Smart has screened children in nearly 250 separate events, impacting kids from more than 100 cities and towns in Oregon and Southwest Washington.
Play Smart is the largest youth heart screening program in Oregon; it operates year-round and epitomizes outreach strategies in engaging with schools and communities. To impact as many youth as possible, Play Smart brings its mobile heart screening program into the high school setting and, in partnership with schools, screens students while raising awareness of heart health with students, families and communities.
Play Smart works with the school screening partners to organize the students to be screened, and it can offer heart screenings to 100-240 youth in a typical screening day.
The prevention and wellness focus of the Play Smart Program makes it an exceptional health educational curriculum supplement in school settings; many health and physical education teachers integrate the heart screenings as an enrichment experience to support their health curriculum.
The school and community partnerships are active and vital to the success of the program. Throughout the six years of the Play Smart Program, it has developed 105 partnerships with schools, local clinics and area community organizations in offering free heart screenings to youth and families throughout Oregon and southwest Washington.
“We are so lucky to have fostered so many positive relationships with school administrators, athletic directors, school nurses, health and PE staff – their participation and enthusiasm for these kids is what makes Play Smart work,” Hibsch said. “They appreciate the importance of this free heart-health screening and recognize the value that this program offers in increasing health awareness in their communities.”
The Beaverton Health Careers program is a great example of the partnerships that Play Smart has developed. In addition to providing its students with free heart screenings, Play Smart is working with its leadership to offer more opportunities for exposure to health-care careers for these students.
Ben Wu successfully performed CPR on his teammate, buying enough time for his coach to access an AED to save his teammate’s life. Everyone is doing well today. Wu is not only an inspiration, but he has also been inspired by his experience – he plans to become a doctor one day.
For more information about the Play Smart Youth Heart Screenings Program and an updated screenings schedule, visit www.playsmartgetscreened.org.