Barnabas Health Presents “A Night of Playing It Safe” at RBR Matthew J. Morahan III Center Offers Free Cardiac and Concussion Baseline Screening to School Community

LITTLE SILVER, NJ - “We may not be able to change what happened in the past, but we can come together to try to change what might happen in the future,” Superintendent Dr. Jim Stefankiewicz told an assembled crowd of Red Bank Regional (RBR) students and their parents during a special presentation by Barnabas Health entitled “A Night of Playing It Safe.” The program discussed Sudden Cardiac Death (SCD) caused by heart-related issues as well as concussions which affect nearly two million people a year including many young athletes on the playing field.

Dr. Stefankiewicz explained that Barnabas Health through their Matthew J. Morahan III Memorial Health Assessment Center for Athletes (The Center) approached the school to present this program as a preview to providing free cardiac screenings including EKGs and baseline concussion testing for all RBR students. Prior to the presentation, parents and students registered for the free screenings, which took place over four days in August. RBR was contacted by Barnabas since the school suffered the horrific loss of two students last year—Albert Martin and Riyadh’na Farrow--due to cardiac related issues.

 

RBR’s basketball captain Albert Martin, a 17 year-old African American basketball player, fit the profile of many SCD victims. Last December he collapsed on the RBR basketball court and sadly became the one in every 200,000 high school athletes who dies from SCD each year.  Monmouth Medical Center’s Pediatric Cardiologist Dr. Loyda Rivera explained the technical causes of SCD, with the vast majority of cases presenting as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a hardening of the heart wall. Although there could be symptoms such as shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest pain, fatigue, palpitations, dizziness or fainting, seizure or convulsions that indicate a heart abnormality, she told the crowd that sometimes, sadly, the only sign could be the sudden collapse and death.  She explained that EKGs can be good indicators of heart abnormalities. While New Jersey law does not yet mandate that all student athletes obtain EKGs, a recent law upgrades student athlete cardiac screenings.

Dr. John Shumko, The Center’s Medical Director, discussed the incidents and warning signs of concussions or traumatic brain injury (TBI) stating that “275,000 children under the age of 14 require hospitalizations each year with 2,000 resulting in death.” He explained that testing would be offered to high school students to create a baseline of their normal brain so it can be utilized in gaging recovery should the student suffer a concussion in the future. It is most important for students to follow a protocol for returning to play after suffering a concussion. New Jersey law also mandates that a student must be approved to return to play by a physician trained in TBI. This is very important because death could result if a second injury, even a slight one, occurs before the brain is fully healed from TBI.  Concussion signs and symptoms include loss of consciousness, amnesia, behavior changes such as irritability, cognitive impairment or slowed reaction time and drowsiness.

Diane Toto, the Center’s Program Coordinator told students what to expect in the screenings which require providing a complete family health history. Any abnormal findings from the screenings would be reported to the parent, the school district and the student’s physician for medical follow-up. Barnabas also agreed to provide medical follow-up in cases where a student did not have access to a cardiologist. All normal EKG results and baseline testing would be maintained in Barnabas Health’s files for future reference if needed. 

            The Matthew J. Morahan III Health Assessment Center for Athletes offers free health screenings through its six affiliate medical centers throughout New Jersey. A recent acquisition of a mobile lab enabled The Center to provide on-site services such as the screenings at RBR. Although, anyone in Monmouth County who would like to utilize these medical services for their young athlete (age six or older) could call Barnabas Health to schedule an appointment at 1-888-724-7127. The Center is next offering this service for up to 200 athletes on September 7 at Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch. 

The evening concluded with the motivational words of The Center’s spokesperson, Joetta Clark Diggs. The four-time Olympian and NJ Hall of Fame Inductee shared her own family’s medical history of cardiac issues as well as her own heart murmur which was detected at an early age.

She told the audience, “As athletes we tell ourselves to be tough, but we also have to be smart.  It is important to be proactive. You are really blessed by what Barnabas is doing as they are on the cutting edge. You should embrace this program.”

RBR parents interested in having their students take part in the free screening during the week of August 12 can visit the RBR website at rbrhs.org for registration forms and the screening schedule.