Hospital's pioneering heart clinic

By Juliette MaxamFOUR apprentice footballers were among the first people to benefit from a new heart-screening clinic that was been officially opened.

By Juliette Maxam

FOUR apprentice footballers were among the first people to benefit from a new heart-screening clinic that was been officially opened.

Ed Cousins, Matthew Cross, Ashley Daniels and Craig Hughes, all aged 16 and apprentices with Colchester United, were each given an ECG (electrocardiogram) at Colchester General Hospital to check for previously undiagnosed heart conditions.

The young footballers were benefiting from the first NHS clinic involving national charity Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY), which was officially opened on Saturday.

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The aim of the clinic, which will be held every two months, is to detect previously undiagnosed heart conditions in people aged from 14 to 35,­ which, if left untreated, can lead to sudden cardiac death.

CRY believes that many young deaths could be avoided if basic cardiac screening was more widely available.

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The driving force behind the pioneering Colchester clinic is Caroline Gard, of Glebe Way, Frinton, whose 17-year-old son Andy died of sudden cardiac death syndrome in 1997.

Mrs Gard's ambition is for routine heart screening to be offered to every 14-year-old in the same way that the NHS offers regular cervical and breast screening to women in certain age groups.

"Many of the young people who die are like my son in that they do not have any symptoms at all, whereas others may experience palpitations, fainting or breathlessness," she said.

"Sometimes death seems to be triggered by physical exertion, which is why some victims have died during or after sporting activity. For this reason, Colchester United always like to have their young footballers checked out."

Alison Cox, chief executive and founder of CRY, said: "The opening of this new clinic is an important and exciting moment for CRY ­and represents a real milestone in our ongoing battle to prevent the number of young lives lost to sudden cardiac death.

"The hard work and dedication of Caroline Gard is an inspiration to us all. This project simply would not have happened without her and it is a wonderful tribute to the memory of her son, Andy."

The clinic is open to anyone who wants confirmation of the health of their heart, especially if they play a lot of sport. A GP referral is not necessary, but there is a charge of £35.

The ECGs will be sent to Dr Sanjay Sharma, consultant cardiologist at Lewisham Hospital NHS Trust. If there is an abnormality, it may be possible to take steps, such as surgery or the fitting of a specialised pacemaker, to reduce the likelihood of Sudden Adult Death Syndrome.

First guests at the clinic included Harwich MP Ivan Henderson, a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Cardiac Risk in the Young, and Colchester MP Bob Russell.

n Anyone interested in being screened at the clinic at Colchester General Hospital should contact CRY on 01255 673598.

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