Lewisham is one of the few areas in the country where students can be tested for undetected cardiac abnormalities and irregularities that can cause Sudden Adult Death Syndrome (SADS). These problems hit young, sporting people throughout the world, causing instant tragedy for families and friends of those affected.
The testing comes courtesy of the charity CRY (Cardiac Risk in the Young), who offer support to families and friends who have lost loved ones to SADS. The procedure looks to diagnose those abnormalities in the heart that could lead to SADS. This acronym is used as an umbrella term for all sudden deaths and problems that aren’t seen through regular scans.
In 2006, Bonus Pastor Secondary School, Downham, allowed students to have ECG (Electrocardiography) tests following the death of 17-year-old student, Philip Meaney, a healthy, sporty young man who could always been seen playing football with friends.
Sport can trigger sudden death by aggravating heart abnormalities and he began to have palpitations following physical exertion. Whilst in bed asleep, he suffered a fatal cardiac arrest. Unknown by his family he suffered from Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM), a thickening of the heart wall.
His mother Maria and her family received support from CRY just days after the tragedy. She said: “I received a phone call from Alison Cox the Chairman of CRY. To this day I’m not sure how she got my phone number, but she was very sympathetic and she gave me lots of practical advice, like getting the whole family screened.
“In those early days we were just so stunned and in a state of shock we needed an explanation as to why Philip died, after all he was very healthy and had shown no signs of heart disease.
“The sad thing was, she told me she had just got permission from Lewisham council to do screening at Bonus Pastor School”, explained Mrs Meaney. “If only they were at the school six months earlier then Philip may be alive today.”
Since the loss of Philip, the number of these deaths has risen from eight to 12 a week in the UK. Mrs Meaney stated: “My family and I feel angry and can’t understand why there isn’t some sort of government initiative in schools to screen every single child at the age of 13.”
Conor Sefton, 20, from Deptford was a student at Bonus Pastor and remembers the testing. He said: “The screening was more of a relief than anything; it reassured me after such a tragedy had happened to a fellow student, as well as an assurance for me. It made everyone else feel a lot safer”
With these tragedies rising so rapidly by four a week, it is incomprehensible that other areas in London have not given permission for screenings in schools, as the number of lives it can save is priceless. In the whole of London, only the borough of Lewisham gives young people the option to be screened in state-funded schools.
When CRY’s Director of Screening Dr Steven Cox began the campaign for screening in schools, Lewisham seemed like the most plausible option. There was a lot of interest from Bonus Pastor and Lewisham University Hospital is one of the top specialist centres in the country.
Cox said: “we were applying in a number of different areas and it made a lot of sense for us to apply in Lewisham because there were clearer and thorough pathways for anyone at Lewisham University Hospital.
“We believe all young people should be screened. It shouldn’t just be for athletes and schools provide an excellent opportunity to see the larger population.
With HCM being brought on by an increase in physical exercise and with such a big sporting event as the London 2012 Olympic Games less than two years away, young people should have been tested a long time ago.
Dr Cox said: “We have worked with the British Olympic association, we used to have our central cardiology centre at the Olympic institute and we were working very closely with them.
“We have a grant to screen potentially representative athletes and we were engaged in that project for 2008 and we are continuing to do so in rowing, cycling, athletics and swimming at the moment.”
If you wish to support CRY, or find fundraising events in your area, or look into screenings please visit the website http://www.c-r-y.org.uk/