Belfast Telegraph

Families of heart defect victims in plea for life-saving screening

BY CHRIS KILPATRICK

Families of young people who died suddenly from unknown heart defects have called for mandatory cardiac screening to be introduced in Northern Ireland to prevent further tragedies.

According to the charity Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY), at least 12 people aged under 35 die suddenly each week in the UK of previously undetected heart problems.

The organisation, which works to raise awareness of the various conditions that can cause sudden adult death syndrome, said figures suggest a 90% drop in deaths since mandatory screening was introduced in Italy and have called on politicians to introduce similar legislation here.

Aaron Lundy (19), from Portstewart, Co Londonderry, left work and went to play football but never came home.

The hugely talented young golfer died from a heart condition in 1999.

His father, John– a CRY campaigner – said politicians were not doing enough to tackle the threat posed to young people by undiagnosed heart defects and called for mandatory checks to be introduced for all children in Northern Ireland.

"We have spoken and met with politicians at Stormont," he said.

"We have told them of the situation, we have asked them for funding to raise awareness as we are totally funded by donations.

"We feel strong enough that with this situation of cardiac conditions that it can be narrowed down to families who have histories and young people can be advised to be screened.

"There's mandatory screening of young people in Italy, it's the only country in Europe that does it.

"The number of cases of cardiac sudden deaths is practically nil because of this.

"If Italy does it why can't we do it here in such a small country?" There has been a string of deaths of young people in Northern Ireland as a result of heart failure in recent years including Cormac McAnallen (24), Tyrone's GAA football team captain.

In 2007 two young GAA players, aged just 10 and 13, collapsed and died after training.

Sarah Booth, a lively schoolgirl who dreamed of being a journalist, died suddenly from an undetected heart defect in 2010. She was just 15.

CRY is funded by donations from the public. The charity stages regular screening events across Northern Ireland for people under the age of 35.

Leading sporting associations across Northern Ireland have purchased life-saving equipment to deliver urgent medical attention to players in need. But campaigners say early detection is key to protecting young people.

Heredity can play a role in congenital heart disease.

Symptoms that do occur often go unrecognised because the young person appears healthy.

With a simple Electrocardiogram (ECG) and diagnosis by an expert consultant cardiologist, many heart conditions can be detected.

Despite this, heart screening for young people is not compulsory, and it is often not until a tragedy takes place in a family that the true extent of the problem is known.

A spokesman for the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety said: "Health Minister Edwin Poots would like to extend his deepest sympathy to the parents and family of Harry Starrett and his thoughts are with them at this very difficult time.

"Sudden cardiac death is a very complex issue. It can be caused by a range of different conditions, many of which are difficult to detect through screening.

"There is no one test that can pick up all these conditions nor is it possible to say which abnormalities will lead to a sudden death. For some of the conditions implicated in sudden cardiac death there is no known or proven treatment.

"The four UK Health Departments and the National Screening Committee continue to monitor current research in this area and consider what future research might be useful."

Campaigners in England recently presented the Westminster government with a 10,000-signature petition calling for a change in policy on cardiac screening in young people

The petition read: "The government must immediately and comprehensively review their policy on cardiac screening in young people."

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