Family Promoting EKG Tests For Students After Tragic Loss

A program is being offered with free EKG tests for high school athletes, part of a program being encouraged by a family after the loss of their child. (Published Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016)

Samuel is a fourth-grader who plays soccer. On the day we met, he was lying on an examination table at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital with a mass of wires connected to his body.

"It's measuring your heart right now," explains Dr. Anthony Rossi to the boy, who just keeps smiling.

Samuel is having an electrocardiogram test, or EKG, to make sure he can play sports safely. Doctors estimate Sudden Cardiac Death kills a child every three days in this country.

"No question about it, there are many tragic events we read about in the newspapers or on the Internet or see on TV that could be prevented with an EKG," said Dr. Rossi.

One of those nightmare incidents claimed the life of 18-year-old Dwayne Mitchell last year. Now his parents are trying to raise awareness about SCD.

"If I can somehow save another parent from going down the road that I went down, I've accomplished my mission," said Christopher Mitchell, Dwayne’s dad.

"And if one life is saved, that's one family that doesn't have to go through what we went through," explained Shantell Mitchell, Dwayne’s stepmother.

The Mitchell’s are living under a cloud of tragedy. Their son died just before he would’ve graduated from Braddock High School. Dwayne played football, he had no symptoms, but his heart just stopped beating one day while he was watching television. No one knew he had a congenital heart disorder called Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome.

“Here's what makes this even more tragic, it's 100 percent curable, we can do procedures in the hospital that take a couple of hours and cure you and your risk is completely eliminated," said Dr. Rossi.

Curing WFP, of course, depends on diagnosing the condition. The simple EKG, which only takes five minutes, would’ve detected Dwayne’s heart abnormality.

"An EKG would've shown us that he was at risk," said Dr. Rossi.

So now the Mitchell’s, who are both detectives at the Miami Beach Police Department, are getting the word out through their “Dwayne Have a Heart Foundation.” They want every student-athlete to have an EKG before they play any sport. The test is not required by the Broward or Miami-Dade public school districts, but Nicklaus Children’s Hospital is doing them free of charge for student athletes.

Just call 1-855-624-EKGS and make an appointment at the main hospital or one of its outpatient clinics, two of which are in Broward County. You don’t need even need health insurance.

"Five minutes can save your life," said Chris Mitchell.

WPW syndrome, which killed Dwayne, is not the only worry. There are many more congenital heart disorders, most of which show no symptoms at all, that can kill a teenager. The EKG detects them before they kill.

"I've gotten phone calls from relatives who said I took my son in to get an EKG screening and the doctor detected something that would've been potentially life-threatening and because of Dwayne, his life is saved," said Shantell Mitchell.

The Mitchell’s found a purpose in their grief, knowing their son’s death is saving lives now.

“I know he's waiting for dad one day and I'll see him again , and that helps me get through these challenges every day,” Chris Mitchell said.