Monday, March 14, 2011

In the Nick of Time

Photo by Haley Blavka
(Left to Right) Darla Varrenti, Executive Director of Nick of Time Foundation; Jessica Manca-Koeller, organizer of school event; Sue Apodaca, Director of Operations for Nick of Time

Did you know that one teen athlete suffers a Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) every three days in the United States?

Recently, my granddaughter, Jessica Manca-Koeller, organized a terrific program at her school, South Whidbey High School in Langley, WA as part of her senior community graduation project. A life-long friend of Jessica’s participated in heart screening tests through his school in Auburn, WA and they found a possibly life-threatening abnormality. Inspired by this experience, Jessica contacted the Nick of Time Foundation, who had conducted the screening in Auburn, and asked them to work with her at South Whidbey High.

For several months, Jessica worked closely with the Foundation and with the community lining up the on-site location, local medical personnel, local volunteers, and donations.

The Nick of Time Foundation, a non-profit organization, is dedicated to educating schools, athletes and communities about sudden cardiac arrest in young people. The Foundation provides support and educational resources for the formation of public access defibrillator (PAD) programs, cardiac screenings, education and awareness.

Nick of Time Foundation was established by Darla Varrenti in memory of her son, Nicholas Dwain Varrenti, a high school junior and energetic football player who died of sudden cardiac arrest at the age of 16.

Nick of Time, based in Mill Creek, WA, working in partnership with the University of Washington Medical center, conducts free, on-site heart screenings. The screenings consist of a survey asking about possible signs, symptoms and family history, an ECG (electrocardiogram) that analyzes electrical signals of the heart, and, in some cases, performs an echocardiogram (ultrasound) of the heart. After on-site reviews of the tests, cardiologists and sports physicians consult with the students.

According to the Center for Disease Control, more than 2,500 young people die from SCA every year. Two acronyms I heard a lot that day – SCA and HCM – are associated with these grim statistics. SCA, Sudden Cardiac Arrest, is a sudden or unexpected cessation of heart function which often causes a sudden arrhythmia, such as ventricular fibrillation. The heart’s electrical impulses suddenly become chaotic, blood flow to the brain ceases and the victim quickly loses consciousness. Unless help such as defibrillation is promptly delivered, the victim will most likely die.

HCM, Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, is a congenital heart defect affecting 1 in 110 births. Most are undiagnosed until suffering sudden cardiac arrest, often resulting in death.

Warning Signs and Symptoms:– unexplained fainting or seizures
– unusual shortness of breath or fatigue
– dizziness or lightheadedness during or after physical activity
– chest pain, discomfort, racing heartbeat
– family history of heart disease
– family history of unexplained sudden death of an otherwise healthy person under age 50

Cardiac Chain of Survival:– early recognition of sudden cardiac arrest
– early contact with 911
– early CPR
– early defibrillation
– early advanced care

Of the 220 students who were screened at Jessica’s school, they found 9 students who need to be monitored, and 2 students with potentially serious problems that needed immediate follow-up. Without the screenings, it is entirely possible that these conditions would have gone unnoticed and they would have become unfortunate statistics.

My thanks to the Nick of Time Foundation and to Jessica Manca-Koeller for their dedication to our community’s heart health. For further information, visit


Ginger said...

Good information, Mary. Thanks for sharing it. And a big Thank You to Jessica for her initiative and to Nick of Tim Foundation for their service to the community.

arletta Dawdy said...

Oh my goodness, Jessica you helped to save 11 young people. That is enormous and you deserve lots of credit for bringing the screening to your school. What a wonderful senior project! Congratulations! You are following in your grandmother's footsteps of helping others very nicely.

Heidiwriter said...

This is amazing and what a wonderful project and organization!

Eunice Boeve said...

Wow! what a neat granddaughter you have. You must be so proud of her.
Good to know about the Nick of Time Foundation.

Terri McIntyre said...

I had no idea that so many young people are facing such a health challenge usually experienced by us older folks. Jessica's work is commendable!