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Health: Pennsylvania Takes First Of Its Kind Step To Protect Student Athletes

By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- The state of Pennsylvania took a first of its kind step today to protect children against the number one killer of student athletes, sudden cardiac arrest, when the heart stops beating suddenly and unexpectedly.

Melissa Fair is a typical 15-year-old. But five years ago, a heart screening at school uncovered something atypical.

"It ended up that there was a birth defect that was never detected when I was born," said Melissa. That put her at risk for sudden cardiac arrest, which is what killed 23-year-old basketball star Hank Gathers, who was born in Philadelphia.

Today, Governor Tom Corbett signed a bill at the Visitation BVM School in Norristown to better protect the health of student athletes.

"This bill provides guidelines to inform students, to inform parents and to inform coaches about the warning signs of sudden cardiac arrest," said Governor Corbett.

The new law, sponsored by Rep. Mike Vereb, requires parents to review and sign information about the condition before their child is allowed to play sports. And if an athlete has symptoms while playing, they must be removed from competition until cleared by a doctor.

"I think it's great so all kids will have the opportunity to have their lives saved like I did," said Melissa.

Dr. Victoria Vetter is a Pediatric Cardiologist at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

"There are some warning signs that children may have before developing cardiac arrest. They may develop chest pain, they may be dizzy, they may faint," said Dr. Vetter.

"For the first time in a state in our country, sudden cardiac arrest is going to become a household term," said Darren Sudman. He and his wife lost their infant son Simon to the condition seven years ago, and they've been advocating and pushing for this legislation ever since.

"We're never going to get to go to Simon's soccer game, choir concerts or graduations. Our moments with him are limited. This bill signing is one of those moments. This is our ceremony for him," said Darren.

The Sudmans have created Simon's Fund to help raise awareness about conditions that lead to sudden cardiac arrest and death in children. It funds heart screenings at local schools and research.

For more on Simon's Fund, click here.

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