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Doctor Discusses School Athletes’ Risks After Linebacker’s Death

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September 27, 2013 — A community is mourning the loss of a favored son tonight, and dozens of people are offering prayers and comments on social media paying tribute to LaPorte football player Jake West.

17-year-old West died Wednesday after collapsing during high school football practice at LaPorte High School.  The coroner says the junior linebacker died of congenital heart problem.

Dr. Zlatan Stepanovic is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at the IU School of Medicine-Northwest, and he says, “That’s a tragic situation.  It’s very emotional, and that topic of sudden death in young athletes really strikes close to your heart.”

Dr. Stepanovic is the director of the Critical and Intensive care units at Saint Mary’s Center.  Stepanovic says, “When you talk about sudden death, that unfortunately is a very sudden event, you won’t know because that person will lose consciousness.  It’s pretty sudden, and it’s very dramatic.”

Doctor Stepanovic says every coach, administrator and even teachers sitting on the sidelines should have CPR training.  He says, “If there were one thing to express to the public,  it’s education and preparedness for the event because obviously if you’re prepared you will be able to access the person and figure out what your next step will be.”

Dr. Stepanovic says schools can protect their athletes by making sure plenty of water is available on the sidelines and keeping a watch on the athletes.  Dr. Stepanovic says, “If you see somebody that’s struggling, somebody that’s vomiting, you would obviously think heat stroke would be an indicator.”

The professor says the most common cause of sudden death in athletes in our country is hypertrophic myopathy.   He says, “The only way to really pick that up are to do an EKG, which is an ultrasound of the heart, you take a probe, shoots ultrasound, like a baby ultra sound and you can see that the muscle is two to three times thicker than normally your heart muscle would be.”

Dr. Stepanovic says, “The other way to pick that and, obviously, is by an examination.  Sometimes you can have a heart murmur; the other way is if somebody would pass out.”

The Doctor also says further medical testing becomes an issue for schools because tests are quite expensive.  He says schools should invest in equipment such as an AED or an Auto External Defibrillator.  Dr. Stepanovic says, “Now the problem with that obviously is multi-fold.  One, you have to have it, so in this country roughly 30% of high schools don’t have one, and in the poorer regions 50% don’t have one.”

The Intensive Care Director says the best plan of action for any school is to have proper staff training and awareness and have a defibrillator on or near the football field.  Dr. Stepanovic says, “I want to leave you with one thought, and that thought is that every minute counts.  Every minute that goes by that you can not have access to a defibrillator there’s a 10% increase in the death.  So literally there’s a 95% chance that you would not survive if you don’t have to a defibrillator.”

Jacob West’s family is remembering his life with a celebration of life service ceremony.  The celebration will be held at Kiwanis Field in LaPorte Sunday at 4:30 p.m.  The family is having a private service at Essling Funeral Home.

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