Monday, March 30, 2015 - Living4Burke: Heroes for Young Hearts

Living4Burke Screenings a Lifesaver for Young Athletes

COVINGTON - Jennifer Arceneaux didn’t have a reason to worry about her son’s heart. Taylor, 12, played for the Walker Renegades football team in Walker and liked to ride dirt bikes on the weekends, never showing trouble during sports physicals.

But Arceneaux knew the story of Burke Cobb, the 14-year-old from nearby Dutchtown who collapsed and died in 2012 after football practice. Only after his death did his family learn he had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HMC), a thickening of the heart muscle that is the leading cause of sudden cardiac death among young athletes.

That’s why in April 2014 Arceneaux took Taylor to St. Tammany Parish Hospital, the only hospital in Louisiana to offer low-cost heart screenings for young athletes as part of the Living4Burke program in honor of Burke.

“This supports our growing focus on the pediatric population," said Melonie Lagalante, director of STPH outpatient services. "We were glad to offer this to the community.”


Heart screenings for young athletes are available throughout the year at St. Tammany Parish Hospital’s Paul D. Cordes Outpatient Pavilion, 16300 Highway 1085, Covington.

The screening costs $150 and includes an echocardiogram, an electrocardiogram and blood-pressure reading.Hamid Salam MD with Covington Cardiovascular Care at St. Tammany Parish Hospital interprets the results, and parents are notified of the findings.

Appointments are available by calling the St. Tammany Parish Hospital Pre-Access Center at 985-871-5665 and asking for the Living4Burke screening.

The Living4Burke Foundation focuses on educating parents about the risk of sudden cardiac arrest in youth and encouraging them to have their children’s heart screened before participating in sports. Founded by Cobb’s family after his death, the not-for-profit foundation has screened about 1,700 athletes ages 12 to 22 at schools and community events throughout Louisiana, including about 300 children during a single day of a recent Mandeville soccer tournament.  

Standard sports physicals do not include screenings such as EKGs, said Kristen Simpson, Living4Burke founder and Cobb’s aunt. About 4.5 percent of Living4Burke’s mobile screenings to date have turned up an abnormality of the heart, although many involve conditions that do not require surgery or other medical intervention.

“As a parent, you want to know that your child’s heart is healthy, but really the only way you can know that for sure is to have their heart screened,” Simpson said.

That message resonated with Arceneaux. But the screening performed at STPH provided her with more than peace of mind. Days after Taylor’s tests, she learned he had a quarter-sized hole in his heart. Left untreated, this abnormal opening in the wall between the two upper chambers of the heart could have led to serious heart problems, including an enlarged heart, she said.

Late last year, Taylor underwent a procedure at Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans to close the opening in his heart. A device specifically designed to close this defect was placed by Ochsner physician Victor Sam Lucas MD, and tissue will grow over it to close the defect.  The device then becomes part of the wall of the heart, Arceneaux said.

“He can play football again next season,” she said.

Improving public understanding of the signs of sudden cardiac arrest, including unexplained fainting and knowing what to do in a cardiac emergency, is another important goal for Living4Burke.

In 2014 the organization helped to pass into law House Bill 542, also known as the Burke Cobb Act, which requires high schools to provide CPR training as a requirement to graduate. Starting in 2015, students also must receive hands-on instruction in the use of automated external defibrillators.

“This means the state of Louisiana will now graduate 35,000 life savers each year,” Simpson said. “We want people to understand not only the risks of sudden cardiac arrest in youths, but also what they can do to save a life.”