AUSTIN -- The Heart Hospital of Austin is offering free heart screenings for student athletes Saturday morning. Doctors hope it helps them catch a potentially deadly disease.
Spencer Hays, 15, hopes to one day compete in track and soccer for Dripping Springs High School. A healthy heart can go a long way to helping achieve those goals. That's why he got a heart screening at the Heart Hospital of Austin.
"I am just hoping to get the peace of mind that's nothing wrong," he said.
Namely Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy -- or HCM. It's a serious genetic condition that results in a thickening of the heart muscle. In some cases, it can be fatal.
"There are no warning signs," said Michelle Hays, Spencer's mother. "This screening will give you the peace of mind of either knowing your child's heart is healthy or alert you to a dangerous situation that you really wouldn't have any other way of knowing about."
Cardiac electrophysiologist David Kessler says the first indications of HCM start to show up between the ages of 14 and 18, or the same time students begin participating in high school sports. He uses electrocardiogram's and echocardiogram's or ultrasound to detect HCM and other potential heart problems.
"We're looking for the thickness of the heart," said Kessler. "We're looking for the function of the heart, and we're looking to see if there are any heart valve abnormalities."
The entire process takes less than five minutes.
"If we find that the screens are normal, we actually can tell people 'You can go on to whatever athletic careers that you want without worry that something else is going to show up later on,'" said Kessler.
Spencer's screening revealed a perfectly healthy heart. He's now cleared medically to proceed athletically. While that may eventually involve lifting weights, he says a heavy weight has already been lifted mentally.
"I guess if you don't know it could be fatal, so it's better to know than not know," he said.
Saturday's screenings take place from 8 a.m. - 12 p.m. As of Friday afternoon, about 20 time slots remain open, but if they fill up, the Heart Hospital of Austin will be doing another free heart screening for students in August. '