Woman works to prevent heart deaths in teens

Holly Morrell of Heartfelt Cardiac Projects
Holly Morrell of Heartfelt Cardiac Projects
CBS News

LAGUNA BEACH, Calif. - Holly Morrell once rode horses professionally. But, CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker reports, Morrell gave up riding after simple tests - an EKG and echocardiogram - revealed her heart was likely to go into sudden cardiac arrest -under stress.

That same condition took the lives of six of her family members including her father, and two cousins aged 12 and 14.

Morrell said she turned her anguish into action. "I gave up my career in equestrian show jumping to devote my energy and focus into saving lives."

She did that by founding Heartfelt Cardiac Projects. Based in Orange County., Calif., and staffed with volunteers, her non-profit offers $1,500 cardiac screenings for free - or, if you're able, a nominal $85 donation.

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"The screening is looking for conditions that can predispose to sudden death," said Dr. Suzanne Feigofsky, a cardiac electrophysiologist. Those conditions include irregular heartbeats, or enlarged hearts. To date, they've given 10,000 free screenings to young athletes. About 1,000 have been sent on for further testing due to questionable results.

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Twelve-year-old snowboarder Wyatt Clavadetscher's mother made him come for a test.

"She saw those kids die on TV, and said she didn't want that to happen to me," he said.

Jordan Faison plays basketball. His father, Derrick, played for the NFL. He died six years ago when his heart suddenly stopped.

Jordan said he "just wanted to make sure there's nothing wrong my heart."

Holly Morrell wants everybody, especially young athletes, to be screened. But a study from Israel, out this week, found 12 years of mandatory screenings did not reduce the incidence of sudden death.

"I wish that screenings were mandatory," Gail Myers said. Her family lost 14-year-old Megan when her heart stopped as she ran cross-country.

"A lot of times, the first sign you have something wrong is the last sign - when you die," Myers said.

"If it's your child, I don't think anyone cares what the statistics are," Dr. Feigofsky said. "If it saves your child's life, it's priceless."

After Holly Morrell learned her condition she had a tiny defibrillator implanted to keep her heart beating. Now she's on a mission that's truly heart felt.