Law provides awareness if sudden cardiac arrest in children

New legislation signed by Gov. Dannel Malloy will promote greater awareness of the incidence of sudden cardiac arrest in children. This often deadly condition can strike children who otherwise appear healthy.

The bill was passed earlier this year with the help of the family of Andy Peña, a Darien student athlete who died of sudden cardiac arrest in 2011, just one month shy of turning 15. His family members looked on as the governor signed the bill on Friday.

“It is a frightening thought that even well-trained student athletes, who exercise regularly, may nevertheless fall victim to sudden cardiac arrest,” said Sen. Bob Duff (D-Norwalk), who worked to pass the bill. “This legislation will alert parents and coaches to this condition, and ensure that they are aware of and know how best to react to the condition’s warning signs. These are sensible precautions which, with luck, may help to prevent future tragedies,” Mr. Duff said.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, sudden cardiac arrest takes the lives of thousands of children every year. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates at least 2,000 such deaths occur annually.

During sudden cardiac arrest the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating, stopping the flow of blood to the brain and other vital organs. The condition can occur in people who appear healthy and have no known heart disease or other risk factors. Sudden cardiac arrest can kill within minutes, though rapid treatment can be lifesaving.

Andy Peña was a disciplined student and athlete, placing among the top 16 Connecticut swimmers in his age group in a backstroke event. As a high school freshman he joined the track and field team and competed during the cross-country fall and winter indoor track seasons. While training on a treadmill for the spring track season, he suffered sudden cardiac arrest and died.

The legislation, Public Act 14-93, will require the State Board of Education to develop a sudden cardiac arrest awareness education program for use by local boards of education, including:

  • Warning signs and symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest;
  • Risks of continuing activity after exhibiting warning signs and symptoms;
  • How to obtain proper medical treatment; and
  • The proper method for returning a student who experiences sudden cardiac arrest to sports.

It also requires the state Board of Education to develop and approve an informed consent form for parents and legal guardians of students involved in intramural or interscholastic athletics regarding sudden cardiac arrest.

Coaches will be required to annually review prevention program materials prior to coaching, but are provided immunity for any actions or omissions regarding the program unless the coach’s actions or omissions constitute willful misconduct, gross negligence or recklessness.

Andy Peña’s parents, Victor and Giovanna, founded the Andy Smiles Forever Foundation in his memory to educate the general public and support research on the causes and prevention of sudden cardiac death among youth.