Over 200 youth undergo free cardiac tests in memory of Wilton teen who died of undiagnosed condition

WILTON — More than 200 young people received free cardiac screenings at the Comstock Community Center, thanks in part to a local couple who has found a positive purpose after the tragic death of their 16-year-old son.

When George DiRocco of Wilton died through an undiagnosed heart condition in September 2020 with no warning signs, it caused intense and helpless feelings of grief and frustration, according to his father, Artie DiRocco.

But after a period of healing, he and his wife, Deb, realized that despite their loss, this could be an opportunity for them to encourage awareness and preventative measures to stop the same thing from happening to other young people.

"We needed a reason," Artie DiRocco said. "We couldn't let him die in vain, so we've embarked on this mission to get as many people screened as we can."

The result was the formation of More George, a local chapter of an umbrella nonprofit called In A Heartbeat. The Wallingford-based group aims to prevent deaths from sudden cardiac arrests and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is a thickening of the heart.

"We're doing this in honor of George," said Mike Papale, IAH's founder.

Papale said he nearly died at age 17 when he went into a sudden cardiac arrest while playing basketball. This ultimately led to the founding of his charity, which focuses on education, training and raising funds to provide defibrillators in public places.

"We have signed up about 225 people," he said of the event held Monday, Feb. 13, with more walk-ins arriving throughout the evening.

A team of volunteers, including medical professionals, conducted EKG screenings on kids as young as 8 and up through 25-year-olds in six classrooms. The results will all be reviewed and assessed by doctors.

"It's just good information to know," said Kathy Saeed of Wilton, who brought her daughter Madison, 9, to be checked.

She and other parents expressed their appreciation for the cardiac screenings.

"Any sort of early detection of what could be a heart problem is really important," said parent Greg Driscoll of Wilton. "It can only be a benefit before it becomes too severe and takes it to a place where it can't be fixed."

Elise Vasko, a medical student from Hamden, was among the volunteers conducting the tests.

"People can have these underlying heart conditions that they don't know about," she said. "It's a really easy, quick test and it can save a life."

After a short questionnaire, she and other volunteers attached a number of electronic sensors to the arms, legs and the chest area of patients, who were instructed to lie still. Results were collected in less than a minute and saved on a computer.

"It was easy," said Ethan Driscoll, 14, an active baseball player who was happy to have the test done.

"I feel like it's important because if you don't do it and you have a heart problem, it can be fatal," he said.

Artie DiRocco said he understands this firsthand.

"This directly saves lives," he said of the screenings. "There's no better way to honor our son than this."