PARKSTON, SD -
A Parkston teenager credits a heart screening for saving her life.
While Sam Herrold didn't have any symptoms of heart problems, the screening revealed a potential danger.
Basketball is a big deal to the Herrold family. 16-year-old Erica is a captain on the Parkston Girls Basketball team. Her dad loves the sport, and her younger sister, Sam, planned to play varsity basketball during her 8th grade year.
"It was my life. That's all I did," Sam said.
Not only was Sam's heart in the game, but at 6'4", she appeared to be the picture-perfect basketball player...
"It's a big part of her personality," Sam's Dad, Rick Herrold, said.
They soon found out otherwise. A heart screening found the 13-year-old has hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a leading cause of sudden cardiac death in young athletes.
"My other daughter had basketball practice that night in Lennox, so I drove from Sioux Falls afterwards to watch her practice and actually didn't even watch the practice. I sat in the parking lot and cried for two hours while she was in practice," Rick said.
"Just a week after we heard about a kid in college football who was just sitting around playing video games, and he just died, so it was kind of scary," Sam said.
While family members were stunned by Sam's diagnosis, they're thankful that they found out before it was too late.
"Normally people can pass out or something. I never had any symptoms, so we wouldn't have known without the screening," Sam said.
"Without the screening, the only way you find out about this condition is you find a kid dead on the floor or locker room after the game," Rick said.
Parkston Girl's Basketball Head Coach Rob Van Laecken encouraged students to be checked after doctors discovered a hole in a Beresford teen's heart during a screening.
"I think every school district should have their kids screened, at least give them the opportunity," Van Laecken said.
Even though the screening may have saved her life, Sam was forced to change her game plan on and off the court. Instead of playing basketball this year, she's been on the sideline keeping stats.
"They put her on some heart medication and said, 'You can't do anything above a brisk walk,'" Rick said.
"When I lost it, I was doing nothing. I was just sitting at home, doing nothing," Sam said.
But Sam wasn't willing to give up basketball or her active lifestyle, so her family started looking at options and earlier this month, she underwent surgery.
Sam had a defibrillator implanted near her heart. It's the most effective and reliable treatment option available.
"It just senses if your heart is going into bad rhythm, and it will go off and monitor what your heart is doing," Sam said.
Now Sam is on the rebound and plans to be back to the game she loves in a week. While Sam is still shooting for a successful basketball career, she says her heart problem has given her a change of heart.
"That basketball isn't everything. There's much more to life than just sports and that family comes first and school before basketball," Sam said.
"Last summer, she was going to go to eight different basketball camps. We had to cancel all those. She went to a camp in northern Minnesota for kids with heart conditions and what she found out there was even though as bad as things seemed, there were a lot of kids who had it a lot worse," Rick said.
"I thought basketball was the only thing I had, but I guess I learned that I have a lot more than that," Sam said.
That is why Sam is walking through life with a new attitude, but not closing the door on her old dreams.
If you would like more information about the heart screenings and a list of upcoming locations, visit the Screening America website
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