Collier County School District considering mandatory heart screenings for student-athletes

ABC News 7 | By Geoff Harris | September 11, 2023

COLLIER COUNTY, Fla. – The Collier County School District is taking preventative measures to protect student-athletes from cardiac arrest. Sudden cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death among student-athletes. One in every 300 students has some type of underlying heart condition and 80% of students have no symptoms before going into sudden cardiac arrest.

In Collier County, heart screenings are not mandatory for student-athletes. Per Florida High School Athletic Association rules, student-athletes are only required to get a physical prior to the start of their particular season. But some school districts across the state are making heart screenings mandatory, and we’re told Collier County hasn’t ruled out the idea. 

“There’s about four counties that actually have piloted and made it so that their athletes, the majority of their athletes, would get that test so we’re looking at that and seeing what the results will be and seeing if we’re going to put that in place in the future,” said Mark Rosenbalm, Collier County’s Supervisor of Interscholastic Athletics. 

Collier County currently offers 22 sports at the high school and middle school levels. To protect student-athletes, at every school there are several AEDs scattered throughout campus. 

“Most of them have between 8-9 AEDs depending on the size of the school,” Rosenbalm said.

Back in 2021, Florida passed legislation making it mandatory for high school students to go through AED and CPR training. But Rosenbalm said all county coaches go through the same training. 

“We’re one of the only counties that make our coaches get AED and CPR certified,” he said.

Prior to the start of this school year, Gulf Coast High School partnered with Ortho Collier, performing heart screenings on around 400 students. ABC7 was told a few abnormalities were found, and those students were sent for further testing. 

“I know we did mass physicals here in the beginning of June and we found some kids that have heart murmurs and whatnot and we sent them for further testing,” said Courtney Schott, Gulf Coast High School’s head athletic trainer. 

Although Collier County is taking these preventative measures, Laurie Martin Giordano wants to see heart screenings become mandatory, not only across the state but the entire country. 

“A very basic screening, baseline screening, is not going to get you what you need to determine are they really ready to do this?” Giordano said.

In 2017, Giordano’s son, Zachary Martin Polsenberg died from excessive heatstroke during football practice at Riverdale High School. After fighting for three years, she was able to help pass the ‘Zachary Martin Act.” 

“The Zach(ary) Martin Act was designed to encompass cardiac arrest and heat illness so the fact that there’s a community that’s saying ‘hey we need to do more than what the law requires. We need to yes, have AEDs on site, we need to have CPR training, but we also need to take that preventative step,’” Giordano said.

Along with AEDs and AED training at every school, the bill also calls for heat stress monitoring, hydration stations and cold-water immersion tubs by every field.

“Our high school students are not protected and they need to be,” Giordano said.

Which is why she’s working on passing even more legislation, aimed at further protecting all students. 

“I believe we need to take them across the entire nation and I’m actually in a letter-writing campaign and speaking with our Congress members about passing national bills that protect students,” Giordano said. 

ABC7 did reach out to the FHSAA, asking if they plan to make heart screenings mandatory for all student-athletes, but we have yet to hear back. 

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