Heart screening law: Making it mandatory

By Bill Spencer - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - At just 16 years old, standing 6 feet, 4 inches tall, Jarron Holden hits the gym with a ferocity that knows no limits.

He goes at working out with every fiber of his body, pushing himself to the edge every day.

“I feel there is literally nothing I can’t do,” Jarron said.

A star junior varsity basketball player at Cedar Hill High School near Dallas, on the court Jarron looks invincible.

“When I’m out there, what’s going through my mind is that I’m the very best player on the court and no one can outwork me,” he said.

But on Aug. 31, 2016, at just 13 years old, Jarron suddenly collapsed right in the middle of a basketball game from sudden cardiac arrest.

Holden actually died twice. His heart stopped twice, but paramedics who rushed to the scene were able to bring him back.

“I leaned over, put my hands on my knee as if I was tired. I took maybe two or three steps and collapsed,” he said.

"I definitely was praying, asking God to keep my child, please let him live through this. He was not breathing. We had lost him. He was gone,” said Jarron’s mother, Dana Holden, remembering her thoughts as she stood trembling next to her son’s motionless body.

Jarron did survive, but he was put on total life support, spent the next six weeks in the hospital and had to undergo open-heart surgery to repair a hidden heart defect absolutely no one knew he had.

“We had no warning signs whatsoever. We thought Jarron was perfectly healthy,” Dana said.

“There was nothing wrong with me. I wasn’t slow. I wasn’t breathing hard or nothing. I was just like every other kid working out,” Jarron said.

Jarron had passed his state-required school sports exam, but that exam never uncovered his potentially deadly, hidden heart problem.

“People ask me all the time: How many Texas high school athletes that have died playing sports from hidden heart defects passed their sports physicals? And the answer is: all of them. All of them. The current sports exams that we’re doing now catch about 3 percent of the heart problems that can lead to sudden cardiac arrest. Three percent. By adding a simple electrocardiogram heart test, an ECG, we can take that to 86 percent,” said Scott Stephens, with the Cody Stephens Foundation.

Now, thanks to Stephens’ efforts and his push to screen all student-athletes for hidden heart defects, state Rep. Dan Huberty is introducing a new bill this year, House Bill 76, that would make it mandatory for every high school athlete in Texas to undergo an electrocardiogram or echocardiogram heart test as part of their required high school sports exam.

The bill would not wipe out the current sports exam required by the University Interscholastic League. It would only enhance it by adding this in-depth heart testing.

“While we can’t go back and save any of these children that we have already lost, you can save your child. You have the ability to do that through this bill,” Huberty said.

As for Jarron, who never had an in-depth heart test, a test his parents say would have uncovered the deadly heart problem that very nearly killed him, he’s back playing high school basketball better than ever.

He's joining those who are backing the proposed law.

“It’s going to save lives,” Stephens said.

“I would 100 percent, whole-heartedly recommend that every student-athlete be tested this way,” Dana said.

“If kids are not tested this way, they are basically risking their life,” Jarron said.

A copy of the proposed bill is below.

 

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