Changing the Game

For years, Lynn, a mother of four athletes from Wall, NJ, was used to shuttling her children to and from soccer, basketball and football games. She never expected to learn about her oldest son's underlying cardiac condition by accident, but that's exactly what happened when 14-year-old Kyle was taken to the emergency room after suffering a dislocated shoulder. Doctors diagnosed him with Wolff-Parkinson- White syndrome (WPW), a heart condition characterized by an abnormal extra electrical pathway of the heart that can lead to episodes of rapid heart rate.

Lynn became an enthusiastic advocate for cardiac screenings following the diagnosis. When her youngest son, RJ, a 16-year-old sophomore who couldn’t wait to get on the football field, he first joined fellow athletes from Wall High School to take part in the Matthew J. Morahan III Health Assessment Center for Athletes – a statewide RWJBarnabas Health program offering young athletes access to free and low-cost cardiac screenings and baseline concussion testing. The wide receiver was anxiously awaiting his first game as a varsity football player when he learned the results of the screening – he, too, had WPW.

Because she had already been through this once before, Lynn knew the course of treatment – she went straight to Brian K. O’Connor, MD, an electrophysiologist specializing in pediatric cardiology at the Children’s Hospital of New Jersey at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center and Saint Barnabas Medical Center, both RWJBarnabas Health facilities, who had performed Kyle’s procedure.

RJ underwent a catheter ablation – a procedure that uses radiofrequency delivered by tube to destroy the abnormal pathway of the heart. Just two weeks after the procedure, RJ played his first varsity game.

“Student athletes are viewed as the epitome of health – young, active and on top of their game. No one expects them to have a serious underlying cardiac condition,” said Lynn. “The key is finding – and fixing – the issue before a problem suddenly occurs. I’m so grateful the Morahan Center offers these screenings, and I hope parents and athletes alike become more aware about the importance of getting checked.”