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After Tragic Hockey Death, Pediatric Cardiologist Talks About Warning Signs

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Monday was the first day back to school for friends of 14-year-old Patrick Schoonover, who died after collapsing on the ice at a hockey tournament Friday.

Patrick was an 8th grader at Black Hawk Middle School in Eagan, but was playing for the Eastview Bantam team when he died.

On Sunday, his parents told us an undiagnosed heart defect caused Patrick's death. His autopsy revealed several abnormalities that affected his aorta and aortic valve. But his family says nothing ever showed up in any physicals and their son never complained of chest pains.

His death has many people asking questions, so WCCO talked with a pediatric cardiologist to find out what parents should be on the look out for and what tests can be done to detect a heart problem early.

"The problems themselves are often silent until they are unfortunately uncovered in an event like this," Dr. Christopher Carter said.

He says babies' hearts are thoroughly checked shortly after birth.

"The congenital heart disease we screen for in infants is more structural disease, so holes in the heart, abnormalities with the valves, the general structure in the heart. Those are often not the kind of heart defects that result in these kinds of events," he said.

But some heart defects are hidden.

"The kinds of conditions that cause these events often have no physical findings on exams, so none of the murmurs or things your pediatrician might pick up," he said.

Carter described two heart conditions that can lead to sudden death. One is the thickening of heart muscles while the other is a problem with a coronary artery.

So, what should parents look for?

"Chest pain with activity, shortness of breath with activity that is out of proportion, lightheaded dizziness, or fainting around activity are things that we look for," Carter said.

Doctors are now debating if there's a better way to screen.

"The main source of debate is whether to add an EKG, which is a basic rhythm test, into screenings. The difficulty is that most young athletes have findings on their EKG that are normal for young athletes, but prompt unnecessary additional testing," he said.

The doctor says it's common for there to be some type of physical activity right before a teenager with a heart problem falls ill because of adrenaline kicking in. He emphasized that these kinds of heart defects are extremely rare.

Most heart problems are detected early, when kids are babies or during those routine exams where pediatricians listen to the heart beat. Family history also plays a big role. Certain children should be tested more thoroughly and more frequently.

Patrick's funeral will be held Friday at 11 a.m. at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Apple Valley.

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