Chrissy Mactaggart is this week’s Meet a Mom! This Greenwich, CT-based mom has three kids—Emma, 21, is a junior at Dartmouth, Kelli, 20, is a sophomore at Boston College and Annabelle, 17, is a senior at Greenwich Academy and will be attending UVA next year. February is American Heart Month, and Chrissy is on the Board of Directors at Who We Play For, a wonderful organization saving lives through electrocardiogram (ECG) testing. “The mission of WWPF is to eliminate preventable SCA in the young. We are about making sure every kid has the opportunity to have their heart checked,” explains Chrissy. In her interview below, Chrissy shares her daughter Kelli’s story and her personal connection to this cause.
To learn more about Who We Play For, click here.
Can you please share Kelli’s story?
Kelli was a healthy 17-year-old and woke up one morning feeling dizzy, but just thought it was because she hadn’t eaten. At school a few hours later, she fainted while walking to class with friends who called 911 and ran for the athletic trainer. When GEMS arrived, she was awake and alert but upon standing went into sudden cardiac arrest. GEMS used an AED and the trainer performed CPR. After multiple episodes of cardiac arrest over the next 24 hours, she was diagnosed with severe myocarditis, a condition much like what we are seeing these days in many recovered COVID-19 patients. Doctor’s think Kelli’s myocarditis was due to a recent virus she had had, complicated by an autoimmune disorder.
Kelli’s life was saved that day because her friends had been taught CPR in school and knew to call 911 when she fainted; because GEMS was around the corner with an AED and in total command of the situation; and because the athletic trainer was nearby and also knew exactly what needed to be done and didn’t hesitate. 1 in 10 survive SCA, and the stars have to align for that to happen. We feel very lucky and blessed that they aligned for Kelli.
I’m so glad she was one of the lucky ones. What led you to join the board of Who We Play For?
The first night at the hospital, when Kelli was very unstable, I was pleading with God to spare her. Later on, when she was home and having been tuned into SCA on social media, I saw a post about WWPF and my first thought was, I have to bring this to CT. We need to screen all kids so that no other family has to go through what ours did.
I really felt like it was a sign for me. My child survived against the odds, so getting involved would be an opportunity for me to pay it forward and hopefully save someone else’s child by helping to get heart screenings into CT schools. In less than a year, we have screened at Brunswick School, Sacred Heart Greenwich and Blind Brook School in New York.
Who should get screened and what is the screening process like?
The human body, including the heart, changes during puberty in a variety of ways. In middle school, student athletes learn how to push their bodies to new levels as they mature and grow. Because of these physical changes and the increased stresses on a student athlete’s heart, cardiac screening should be part of a physical every other year starting in 7th grade through high school.
Electrocardiogram (ECG) screening can help detect problems before they become major medical issues. While we recommend all student athletes get an ECG, you should definitely be screened if you:
*Have a family history of heart disease or SCA
*Experience dizziness or fainting spells during or after exercise/activity
*Experience extreme fatigue or unusual shortness of breath during or after exercise
*Experience chest pain during exercise
*Experience racing or irregular heartbeats
Cardiac screening with an ECG can detect a variety of potentially fatal diseases that disturb a heart’s normal electrical function such as Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM), Long QT Syndrome, and Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome. An ECG records the electrical activity of the heart and measures the electrical signals the heart uses to contract and circulate blood through the body and lungs. An ECG involves placing electrodes on the chest around the heart to record those signals. Once the screening is complete, our team of cardiologists will review the child’s ECG, alongside their personal and family health history, to make a determination on that child’s heart health. The test is easy, painless, non-invasive, and takes less than 5 minutes to perform. It does not involve needles, blood work, radiation exposure or sedation.
If parents are interested, how can they get their child’s team screened?
Parents can email me at Chrissy.firstname.lastname@example.org. If they can secure a location for the screening and have a group of children or a team they want screened, we can take care of the rest.
How has COVID affected WWPF?
COVID-19 has increased the demand for our service exponentially as COVID-19 has attacked the world’s cardiovascular system. Under the guidance of our medical advisory team, we’ve advanced our protocol and procedures to provide the safest and cleanest possible heart screening. On a personal note, at the end of October, Kelli got COVID and was asymptomatic. However, on Day 10 of her quarantine she started having runs of V-tach which is an arrhythmia causing the heart to beat abnormally fast. This caused her ICD to shock her multiple times. She spent a week in ICU and the doctors think it was due to inflammation caused as a side effect of COVID. We are still learning about the after effects of COVID-19 on our bodies and it is more important than ever to get our kids’ hearts screened before they play sports.
Wow – other than that scary episode, how is Kelli doing now?
Kelli is doing amazing. As I mentioned, she had ICD implanted shortly after her SCA episode and is now studying at Boston College.
What got you through the hard times, as a mom?
Our family and friends helped get us through the hard times and continue to be a source of endless support. The family we have gained from our involvement with WWPF has been so important to us as well. When dealing with the fallout from SCA, talking to other parents and children who understand what you are dealing with is so therapeutic. Even with our happy ending, it can be difficult to put life back together after the trauma of SCA. Our family at WWPF has been critical in helping us with that.
Anything else you’d like us to share?
I did not know what SCA was until it happened to my daughter. It is real, and although rarely in the news, it happens 20 times every day in this country. In fact, it happened to a teenager in Wilton, CT a few weeks ago. When I see it in the news it infuriates me. We all need to challenge the standard of care for our children. The cardiac exam of the annual sports physical is limited to family, and personal health history questions, and requires a doctor to listen to the student’s heart with a stethoscope. Studies have shown that this is just 1% effective at identifying abnormalities that may lead to SCA. The addition of an ECG screening can increase the effectiveness up to 85%.
Want to help? Sign this petition to show your support for HB-157 and SB 280, bills that would require high school students in Florida to get CPR training to graduate, and require an EKG for FHSAA sports. You don’t have to live in FL to sign and support. FL is one of only 7 states that doesn’t require high school students to take CPR.