Detecting hidden heart defects in student athletes

By Bill Spencer - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - At six feet four inches tall, weighing 220 pounds, Cameron Juniel was a basketball playing wizard at Pearland High School.

Playing center for the team, he could do just about anything from high-flying slam dunks to fade-away jumpers, and all the time look like Superman doing it.

“If you wanted to look someone up in the dictionary who was an athlete, you would see Cameron’s picture,” said Sherri Juniel, Cameron’s mother.

Yes, looking at Cameron and his ripped physique, you would think he was invincible.

“The picture of perfect health, that was Cameron,” Alan Juniel, Cameron’s father, said with obvious pride.

What no one knew: Lying totally hidden inside Cameron’s young heart was a silent killer.

He had a hidden heart defect that produced no visible signs or symptoms that anyone would ever notice.

“We simply had no idea whatsoever. Cameron had a physical every year; he was healthy, he was fit and strong,” Sherri said.

On May 17, 2015, while playing a game of pickup basketball at the Pearland Recreation Center, Cameron suddenly collapsed right in the middle of the basketball court.

Paramedics rushed to the scene and performed CPR and administered help with an AED machine.

They worked on him, as a crowd of stunned players looked on.

In the end, Cameron died from a sudden cardiac event caused by Hypertrophic Cardio Myopathy, a hidde, heart defect.

Cameron was 20 years old, just weeks away from starting school at San Jacinto College.

“It was just so sudden, out of nowhere. When I got to the hospital, my husband was already there and I knew it couldn’t be good. The doctor came out and told us Cameron didn’t make it,” Sherri said while wiping away tears.

Now, in an effort to save all local student athletes from ever having to suffer as Cameron did, we at Channel 2 are partnering with The Cameron Juniel Project, the nonprofit organization Who We Play For and The Cody Stephens Foundation to offer in-depth heart screenings, including electrocardiogram testing, to hundreds of people ages 11 to 25, absolutely free of charge.

“Our aim is to prevent sudden cardiac arrest and create prevention and awareness and bring it to the community at large,” Alahna Kessler of Who We Play For said.

The group Who We Play For is conducting the actual testing and has already tested close to 100,000 young athletes in five different states, including Texas.

“We know for a fact that we have saved nearly 76 lives through our heart screen program,” Alahna said.

Scott Stephens, whose own son Cody, a star football player at Crosby High School, died from a hidden, heart defect just weeks before graduating from high school, is funding this massive heart screen, through money raised by the Cody Stephens Foundation.

Stephens says this testing goes far beyond the traditional high school sports exam that student athletes are required to go through to play sports.

“Our current sports physicals catch about 3 percent of heart abnormalities. Three percent! By adding this Electro Cardio Gram, we can take that number to 86 percent,” Stephens said.

In fact, the painless, 10-minute test could save your child’s life and save you from the unthinkable.

If you would like to register your child for The Heart Check, Powered By The Cameron Juniel Project, it is being held from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at The Kingdom Builders Center, 6011 W. Orem Drive in Houston.

REGISTER HERE

It is open to everyone ages 11 to 25 and is absolutely free of charge.

You do need to register your children before bringing them to the event and you can do that right now, by clicking on the link in this story.

Cameron Juniel’s parents, Sherri and Alan, urge you to do just that, right away.

“It’s too important," Alan said. “It’s your child’s life.”

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