Father who lost his son hopes ECG law will save students from sudden death

A Houston father has just returned from testifying in Austin.  He's trying to get legislators to pass a law that is too late for his son, but he believes it will help save other student athletes.

We've seen it too many times--kids who die suddenly, and that's when their parents find out their child had a heart problem.  That's exactly what happened to Scott Stephens, but he says it doesn't have to happen and he hopes Texas lawmakers will agree with what he's proposing.

Cody Stephens was 6'9" tall, 18 years old, ready to tackle the world and heading to college on a football scholarship when he dropped dead at home in May 2012.  Scott Stephens says he has since learned a 5-minute, $15 electrocardiogram or ECG likely would have saved his son's life. 

”I've been told by several medical experts that it would have found his problem, and I live with that every day,” Stephens said.

So Stephens is doing all he can to keep other parents from knowing his pain.  He's hoping Cody's Law--HB 3476--will pass, making it mandatory for student athletes to have their heart checked out along with their physical exam.

”We are trying to enhance the current sports physicals to include an ECG twice in an athlete's career.  So like his Freshman year and his Junior year.  He would get an ECG as part of his physical.  The current sports physicals as they exist today miss 95 percent of the heart issues that cause sudden cardiac arrest,” Stephens explains.

After Cody passed away five years ago, his dad started the Cody Stephens Go Big or Go Home Foundation and offers free heart screenings for student athletes. 

”We've paid for about 40,000 students across the state.  We found about 1 in 900 have needed medical intervention.  That's about 50 students that have had heart surgery,” says Stephens.

”EKG's have been known to catch about 80 percent.  In fact, in Italy where they're incorporated routinely, they've pretty much eliminated sudden death in athletes,” explains Houston Methodist Hospital Cardiologist Dr. Kevin Lisman. But there are some critics who don't want the bill to pass because ECG's can result in false positives.

”Athletes get changes in their heart that often times can be signaled as abnormalities, so if they're not interpreted properly, they can be over called and the argument is that can increase the cost.  So suddenly your child is needing an Echo or an MRI to be able to play sports and sometimes those are very expensive modalities.  The argument against is that it would increase the costs perhaps.  The argument for is that any tool we have to prevent death in these kids is one we would be in favor of,” says Dr. Lisman.

”Cody had a sports physical every year.  No flags, play ball and meanwhile he was walking around with a ticking time bomb.  An ECG can make a difference.  It can save lives.  No.  It's not a perfect test.  What medical screening is perfect?  If we're going to wait on perfect, we're going to wait a long time,” says Stephens.

As part of the proposed bill that lawmakers are considering right now, parents can opt out for any reason if they choose not to get their child an ECG.  Parents or the school district would have to pay for the test. 

The Crosby ISD Superintendent testified yesterday before lawmakers saying ECG's are now required in Crosby after screenings detected heart problems in five students.  He says it costs the district $6600 of their $60 million budget.