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Boy's Fatal Cardiac Arrest Encourages Screenings, Saves Girl's Life

Comstock/Thinkstock(FORT WORTH, Texas) -- Janice English had her world turned upside down in 2006 when she found out that her then 14-year-old son Blake had died after spending a night goofing around with friends.  But little did she know at the time that her tragic experience would have later saved the life of at least one other young person close to her.

While at a slumber party on Dec. 29, 2006, Blake told his friends that his chest was killing him.  After throwing up from the pain, he collapsed and began to shake violently.  After calling 911, the paramedics told his friends to begin CPR.  When English arrived at the hospital, Blake was already gone.

Doctors told English that Blake died of sudden cardiac arrest.  For the following year, English said she "felt numb" and she had to "learn to breathe again."

When she did learn to breathe again, English began volunteering at Parent Heart Watch, a group based in Fort Worth, Texas, that seeks to protect kids and teens from sudden cardiac arrest by encouraging them to be screened for heart conditions.

A couple of years after Blake's death, English was volunteering at a free EKG screening for high school athletes in the Dallas area.  She had encouraged Nina Strenk, her lifelong best friend who was the first to arrive at the hospital when Blake died, to join her in volunteering and urged her to take advantage of the opportunity to have her kids screened.

Strenk's daughter, Ally, then 16, had grown up with Blake.  She agreed to go to the Saturday screening, if only to appease her mom and mom's best friend.

After Ally was screened, Strenk said, "I knew immediately that something was wrong because of the look on the doctor's face.  Something wasn't right."

That day, Ally was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, a heart condition in which there is an extra electrical pathway in the heart.  The condition can lead to episodes of rapid heart rate.  The erratic beats can cause palpitations, dizziness lightheadedness, fainting, and sometimes even sudden death.

Within the next week, doctors performed a cardiac ablation, a procedure that can correct heart rhythm problems by using long tubes, threaded down a vein to the heart to fix any structural problems causing arrhythmias.  And within a few months, doctors corrected the condition.

"I'm so thankful for Janice and for Blake," said Strenk.  "I feel like he had a hand in potentially saving Ally's life.  We just wouldn't have known anything without that EKG."

About 400 teenagers were screened the same day Ally was diagnosed.  Along with Ally, English said nine other boys found out they had some sort of irregular heart condition.

English now advocates for EKG screenings of all children through Parent Heart Watch.  She encourages parents to ask their children how they're feeing.  And she believes the screenings should be a part of standard physical routines.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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