DOCTOR IS IN: How to prevent cardiac death in kids

By Robert Campbell, M.D.

Sudden death and young people are typically associated with one another. However, between 600 and 1,000 children a year experience sudden cardiac death. And despite what we often hear from the media, these children who have died suddenly were not “completely healthy.”

They often do not have “normal” hearts. Instead, these children have serious heart conditions that have not been diagnosed. Early detection of heart problems is the first step in preventing sudden cardiac death.

Many of the causes for sudden cardiac arrest are genetic. Often other family members have heart conditions. Parents who are worried about the safety of their children can start with a simple step—getting an accurate family health history.

Ask immediate family members questions like:

• Have you ever fainted, passed out, or had a seizure suddenly and without warning, especially during exercise or in response to auditory triggers like doorbells, alarm clocks, and ringing phones
• Have you ever had exercise-induced chest pain or shortness of breath?
• Are you related to anyone with sudden, unexplained, and unexpected death before the age of 50 (including sudden “heart attacks” with no prior history, unexplained accidents, unexplained drownings, SIDS)
• Are you related to anyone who has been diagnosed with a sudden death-predisposing heart condition such as, but not limited to, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy or Long QT syndrome? (comprehensive list is available)

These symptoms do not necessarily mean your child has a heart condition. However, they are important warning signs and should not be ignored.

What can you do if you witness someone experiencing sudden cardiac arrest?

June 1-7 is National CPR/AED Awareness Week. The week encourages the public to get CPR training and learn how to use an AED. Unless CPR and defibrillation are provided within minutes of collapse, few attempts at resuscitation are successful.

Even if CPR is performed, defibrillation with an AED is required to stop the abnormal rhythm and restore a normal heart rhythm. New technology has made AEDs simple and user-friendly. Clear audio and visual cues tell users what to do when using an AED and coach people through CPR. A shock is delivered only if the victim needs it.

There are two ways to become CPR trained: take a traditional classroom-based course, or get a self-paced CPR Anytime kit, which includes an inflatable manikin and instructional DVD.

We’d like to hear from you. Will you discuss identifying potential heart problems with your child’s doctor? Will you learn CPR techniques and proper AED use?

  • Pediatric Cardiologist Robert Campbell, M.D., Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Sibley Heart Center. He’s also the division Director of Pediatric Cardiology and a professor of pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine. For more information on preventing sudden cardiac death in young people and CPR/AED training, visit
  • (Information provided by Emory on this site is intended solely for general educational purposes and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other health provider for any questions you may have regarding your health and medical condition. If you rely on any information available through this website, you do so at your own risk. You understand that you are solely responsible for any damage or loss you may incur that results from your use of or reliance on any material or information provided by Emory through this website.)

One comment Add your comment

The Sarge

May 26th, 2009
7:42 am

This all sounds wonderful…PEOPLE HELPING PEOPLE! This is the way societies have functioned for, well, a long time. However, we have allowed ourselves to become the law suite-loving society where, in sad-but-true reality, we are affraid to step forward for fear of legal retribution. I know, there’s the Good Samaritan Law which, on paper, affords a protective shield for those who would actualy attempt to help another in distress. The intense laughter is coming from the lawyers and ambulance chasers who would beg to differ otherwise.

What with the stellar performance we have observed from our elected law bodies, both at State and Federal levels, perhaps those esteemed servants of the people might assume a proactive approach and work on this slippery slope so that we might once again become a society of PEOPLE HELPING PEOPLE.