A new bill was signed in Pennsylvania last week to protect students against the leading cause of student athlete deaths in the U.S. Governor Tom Corbett, who signed House Bill 1610, the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Prevention Act, did so in an attempt to safeguard student athletes with undetected heart conditions.
The Act’s primary goal is to establish standards and guidelines in order to prevent sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) while raising awareness and encouraging open dialogue. In the context of the Act, athletic activity refers to interscholastic athletics, contests, competitions, noncompetitive cheerleading, practices and scrimmages. The Act requires that:
• Students who wish to participate in an athletic activity must sign a form indicating they have received and reviewed an information sheet outlining the symptoms and warning signs of SCA. The form must be signed annually and be co-signed by a parent.
• If a student exhibits signs or symptoms of SCA while participating in an athletic activity, they will be removed by the coach immediately.
• If a student athlete exhibits any SCA signs prior to an athletic activity, they will not be able to participate.
• Once a student has been removed, they may not participate again until they have been evaluated and cleared by a licensed physician, certified nurse practitioner or cardiologist in writing.
• Coaches must complete an annual SCA training course and may not coach until such a course is completed.
• Minimum penalties shall be enforced for coaches who do not take part in the courses, ranging in severity from seasonal to permanent coaching suspension.
SCA is a heart condition in which the muscle suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating. Unlike a heart attack where blood continues to flow through the heart but becomes partially blocked, SCA means that blood has completely stopped flowing to the heart and other organs. If it is not treated within minutes, the outcome is usually death. Symptoms include fainting, difficulty breathing, chest pains, dizziness and abnormal racing heart rate.
The bill was signed just two weeks before an 18 year old football player collapsed and died during a pickup basketball game in San Marcos, California. While the autopsy report is still pending, it is believed to be the latest SCA tragedy. SCA claims approximately 7,000 young lives annually.
So what does this mean for student athletes, coaches and athletic trainers? In reality, not much for those outside of Pennsylvania as this bill is the first of its kind. The passing of this Act does however show a collective effort in moving towards a more proactive approach to athlete health while highlighting the value and importance of doing so at an earlier and more vulnerable stage.
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