Leon County Schools offering students free heart screenings

WCTV | By Julie Montanaro | March 23, 2022

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) – Leon County Schools is now one of the first districts in Florida to offer free heart screenings to students in hopes of preventing tragedy.

Nationwide, sudden cardiac arrest claims the life of a student-athlete approximately every three days.

Starting this week, LCS is offering free ECGs to every sixth-grader in hopes of discovering potentially deadly heart conditions before students step onto the playing field.

It only takes a minute. The school district teaming up with Simply Healthcare and Who We Play For to offer free electrocardiograms to every sixth grader who wants one.

“There is no doubt in my mind this program is going to help save lives,” Superintendent Rocky Hanna said as they kicked off the program at Deer Lake Middle School Tuesday.

The screenings hope to identify an estimated one in 300 children with a deadly, but detectable, heart condition.

“These are kids… it may not happen tomorrow, it may not happen next week… but kids who should know,” said Who We Play For Executive Director Evan Ernst.

Ernst and his friends started the nonprofit “Who We Play For” after his friend, Rafe Maccarone, died of sudden cardiac arrest in high school.

“We watched our teammate die on the soccer field from a detectable heart condition,” Ernst said. “When Rafe died, we didn’t realize that he represented the leading cause of death in sports, the leading cause of death in schools.”

“Around that same time there was a kid at Godby High School, Tariq Barfield, who collapsed and died of cardiac arrest, the exact same way our teammate did, so that was just pure rocket fuel,” Ernst said. “It makes no sense. So this cause means the world to us.”

An LCS spokesman says parents of sixth graders have already received information and permission slips and starting this week, the district hopes to screen 2000 thousand middle schoolers.

“Of those 2000,” Superintendent Hanna said,  “if we identify 6, 7, 10 kids that tell their parents they need to get checked for further diagnosis,  it’s only going to save lives.”

The screenings started Monday and in the next few weeks “Who We Play For” will be visiting all the middle schools in Leon County.

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