EDISON – The same field on which Kittim Sherrod starred for the Edison High School football team fittingly served as the site for a press conference to introduce federal legislation aimed at preventing sudden cardiac death in students.
Sherrod, who had an undiagnosed heart condition, collapsed and died six years ago after going into cardiac arrest during a training run with the high school track team, but his spirit lives on in the form of a bill U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., 6th District, introduced Monday at Matthew J. Drwal Stadium.
The congressman stood alongside Sherrod’s grandmother, Razeenah Walker — who met with Pallone’s aides when they began drafting the legislation — at a podium in the north end zone with about two dozen current Edison High School student-athletes encircling them in a show of solidarity.
Pallone introduced the Cardiomyopathy Health Education, Awareness, Risk Assessment and Training in the Schools (HEARTS) Act to heighten awareness about the risk sudden cardiac arrest poses to children.
“When everybody went on with their lives (after Sherrod’s death), would anybody continue to pay us any attention or care about this?” said Walker, an advocate for awareness who first met Pallone on the same field in 2010, when the congressman promised to take up her family’s goal to “save one life at a time.”
“For him to come back to Edison High School I think is wonderful. This gives us the strength to want to continue fighting this because we have such a great backing and to see that a change is being made. It’s baby steps, but this gives us hope that Kittim didn’t die in vain.”
Sherrod’s death was attributed to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), which occurs in one in 500 people, or more than 600,000 people in the United States. A silent killer more commonly known as a large heart, HCM, if detected early, can be combated, enabling hundreds of young lives to be saved.
Pallone said there are nearly 1 million Americans living with other conditions that can cause sudden cardiac arrest in young people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one student-athlete falls victim to sudden cardiac arrest every three to four days.
Eight months after Sherrod died, HCM claimed the life of former South Brunswick High School basketball player Brandon James, and it is suspected of being the cause of death this year of former East Brunswick High School baseball player Patrick Awosogba.
Last week, Nixon Geraldo, a 14-year-old student at the Patrick School in Elizabeth, suddenly collapsed during a basketball practice and was pronounced dead one hour later. The cause of his death is pending the results of an autopsy. Geraldo reportedly told his coach he was feeling lightheaded and dizzy before collapsing to the court.
Warning signs of HCM can include palpitations, a racing heart, dizziness, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, fainting and chest discomfort, but symptoms do not always appear. HCM usually surfaces during or after adolescence and is the leading cause of sudden cardiac death in people under 30. Athletes comprise 20 percent of all HCM-related deaths in the United States. Young black males are particularly at risk, accounting for about half of all sudden cardiac deaths in athletes, according to Lisa Salberg, CEO and founder of the New Jersey-based national Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Association.
Pallone’s legislation would require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to coordinate with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and national patient advocacy and health professional organizations to develop educational materials and resources on cardiomyopathy for public awareness and to distribute those materials to schools, teachers and parents. Pallone’s bill would also help schools be more aware of, and prepared for, a cardiac emergency.
“It’s really a combination of preparedness, a better diagnosis and also just making people more aware,” Pallone said. “The focus is really on the schools and teachers, because that’s really where most of these incidents occur.”
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