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Free Screenings Event Helps Students Avoid Future Heart Problems

The father of student Peter Catcho, who died suddenly last month, joins heart screening program at Andover High School.

Staying healthy was the name of the game as student athletes gathered in the Andover High School gymnasium for a heart screening program on Wednesday night. Doctors, technicians and other medical personnel from William Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak volunteered their time to evaluate the students to help identify risks and potentially serious heart problems in the future.

The program was dedicated to the memory of Andover student Peter Catcho, , according to Oakland County Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. Patrick Cho. The 17-year-old, who had complained of a rapid heartbeat earlier that evening, had no history of heart problems.

Dr. Maher Rabah, a Beaumont Hospital cardiologist and Andover parent of   sophomore Sam Rabah, said the goal of Wednesday's screenings is to help students identify and eliminate the potential risk of developing serious heart problems by determining whether a student has a previously undetected condition.

Rabah said a genetic condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, an abnormal thickening of the heart muscle, accounts for 40 percent of sudden deaths among student athletes. Limiting exercise on a permanent basis is often the only viable treatment.

It could not be determined whether Catcho’s death could have been prevented, but his father, Eddie Catcho of West Bloomfield, was at Andover on Wednesday to show his appreciation to the students and staff members.  

“I’m basically here to show my support,” Catcho said. “We should do what we can to help these children, because they’re our future.”

The basic screening included a health history and questionnaire to identify genetic risk factors or previous heart problems, followed by a blood pressure reading and electrocardiogram (EKG). The data was reviewed by a physician and those students with abnormal test results or other risk factors were sent down the hall for an ultrasound (echocardiogram) of the heart.

“I’ve never done this kind of testing before and I just want to make sure nothing’s wrong,” said Abbey Haji-Sheikh, a swimmer who attends Lahser High School in Bloomfield Hills. “I don’t want to get any surprises.”

Students who were referred for echocardiograms had a variety of risk factors, including heart murmurs, irregular EKGs, family history of heart disease and complaints of chest pains after exercising.

Maria Callaghan, who participates in lacrosse, track and basketball at Seaholm High School in Birmingham, received an echocardiogram because her questionnaire indicated she fainted during an exercise session.

Beaumont staff donated their time to the student heart screening program, which helps provide the service free of charge. Because this type of screening could cost as much as $1,000 in a standard medical facility, many parents were eager to have their children participate.

“It’s unfortunate that a tragedy brought attention to this issue,” West Bloomfield parent Mark Rotenberg said as he waited for his son Jared, a member of the Andover hockey team. “But it’s a great thing that Beaumont is offering this at no cost. Every parent should take advantage of this opportunity for their child.”

Subsequent screenings are scheduled for 9 a.m.-2 p.m. April 30 at the Beverly Hills Club and 3-7 p.m. May 20 and 9 a.m.-1 p.m. May 21 at Milford High School. Those interested in a screening can call 800-633-7377 to register and download and fill out the required authorization and consent forms prior to arrival.

Students who are unable to attend one of the scheduled screenings may contact the Ernst Cardiovascular Center at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, which offers student heart screenings by appointment for $25. The reduced cost comes from staff volunteering their time and to cover administrative costs. Call 800-328-8542.

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