Youngsters tested for heart defects

MORE than 750 youngsters were invited to have their hearts screened yesterday by a mother whose son died unexpectedly.

James Hore

MORE than 750 youngsters were invited to have their hearts screened yesterday by a mother whose son died unexpectedly.

Caroline Gard's apparently healthy teenage son, Andrew, died from Sudden Death Syndrome (SDS) just two days before he turned 18.

Mrs Gard, from Frinton, is now campaigning for the charity Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY) in a bid to persuade as many youngsters as possible to have an ECG (electrocardiogram) test.

She was at the Colne Community College in Brightlingsea yesterday where pupils were invited to take the scan, which could ultimately save lives.

The initiative follows the success of a CRY project last year when 387 out of 800 students at Tendring Technology College in Frinton were screened.

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Mrs Gard spoke to the Colne pupils earlier this month, showing them a short film in which CRY patron, the comedy actor David Walliams, has an ECG to demonstrate how straightforward it is.

Mrs Gard said: “My advice to parents and students would be to accept the invitation to have a free ECG because it is a simple way to diagnose most cardiac abnormalities which, if undetected, can cause SDS in apparently fit and active young people.

“My target is to offer screening to young people in this age group at all five secondary schools in Tendring - an agreement has already been reached to offer screening to students at Clacton County High School in January - and from there to go to schools in Colchester.”

Some of the cost of the screening programme at The Colne Community School will be met from funds raised following Andrew's death in 1997 but to extend the programme throughout north east Essex there will need to be donations and sponsorship.

SDS is an umbrella term for the many different causes of cardiac arrest in young people.

CRY estimates that at least 400 people under 35 die each year as a result of SDS but believes that the majority of these deaths could be avoided if basic cardiac screening was more widely available.

Of the 387 students screened last autumn at Tendring Technology College, three were referred for further investigation.

In cases of serious abnormalities people can have surgery or have a pacemaker fitted to reduce the likelihood of SDS.

Some cases can be triggered by physical exertion, particularly in those who play high-level sport while others may experience palpitations, fainting or breathlessness, but some, including Mrs Gard's son, show no symptoms at all.

CRY has run regular heart screening clinics for people aged 14-35 at Colchester General Hospital for more than three years.

To book an appointment, visit the CRY website - - and click on “screening”.