"This isn't going to hurt at all."
Baltic High School freshman Jack Foster spent Thursday morning showing us his heart. As he laid on a table with all sorts of cords attached to his chest, shoulders and legs, he witnessed his own EKG and echocardiogram. The EKG looks at the electrical rhythm of the heart to see if the heart rate and rhythm are normal. The echocardiogram takes pictures of the internal anatomy of the heart to look for any abnormalities that cause sudden cardiac death. In all, the tests will let the 15-year-old boy know if he has hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy is a heart defect that can often have no tell-tale symptoms. One in 500 people have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or HCM. It causes the heart to thicken, forcing it to work harder to pump blood. Symptoms are very subtle and can include just being tired or having shortness of breath. This type of screening to catch it is about $89. However, for Foster, it was free thanks to Ann and Troy Thompson. The Thompsons said they will gladly pay this price because the disease has cost them too much.
"I wish I had that chance. I wish Adam had that chance," Ann said.
Adam was the Thompson's 16-year-old son. In May, just hours after his first driver's ed lesson, he collapsed in his room and died. The Thompsons did not know he had HCM because his symptoms, fatigue and shortness of breath, did not seem like anything to worry about at the time. Adam had been up very early that morning. The doctors told the Thompson's his heart was four times larger than a normal heart.
"It's part of my healing process for my husband and I," Ann said.
In August, the Thompsons held a charity benefit in Baltic and raised about $10,000. They have teamed up with Screening America to use this money to pay for free heart screenings. Teens like Foster have taken advantage of this, as well as students and adults from Renner and students from SDSU. Four screening sessions this fall led to about 100 people from the area getting screened.
"If something is wrong, the bad news is there's something wrong. But the good news is we found it. The good news is there's something wrong and we can do something about it. It doesn't have to end in tragedy," Doug Adams, Director of the Health Screening Program for Screening America, said.
Though HCM is typically associated with athletes, the disease does not discriminate, and according to Adams, 3,000 kids die from the disease every year. Those are just the cases that are reported. Screening America helps people like the Thompsons set up screenings in their home areas.
Foster hopes more of his classmates will get screened.
"They probably should just do it. It doesn't take much time. It's easy and it always helps to check," Foster said.
He appreciates the Thompsons for showing us what is inside their hearts.
"Adam was such a giving kid. He loved helping people. He'd give you his last dollar," Ann said. "We're actually doing something good and making changes. That's what it's all about."