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Shropshire mum backs heart screening tests

By Lisa O'Brien | Shrewsbury | Health | Published:

It’s every parent’s worst nightmare being told that your apparently fit and healthy teenager has a heart condition that could potentially kill them.

Aron and his sister Anya presenting the cheque to Sue Dewhirst

Kerry Preece's 18-year-old son Aron was diagnosed with a condition known as Wolff-Parkinson-White (WPW) syndrome after attending a heart screening organised by the charity Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY).

WPW is a problem with the electrical 'connections' in the heart.

It causes a rapid heart rate which in some cases can lead to a dangerous and possibly fatal arrhythmia.

However, sufferers will often not be aware of any obvious symptoms.

Mrs Preece, of Shrewsbury, says the news was like 'a slap in the face' and now wants others to understand the importance of booking in for a simple screening test with CRY.

She is urging parents to click through to testmyheart.org.uk during National Heart Month, which takes place in February.

Kerry said: “Like most parents who drag their children along to a heart test on a Saturday morning, with both protesting that ‘there’s nothing wrong’, I never imagined the doctor would call me in to explain he’d found something abnormal on Aron’s electrocardiogram (ECG) and that, until he’d been referred for treatment, he’d have to give up his passion in life – swimming.

"I admit, I burst into tears and felt completely in shock.

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"But CRY couldn’t have been more supportive, directing us in our treatment journey.

"We even stayed in touch with the doctor who identified Aron’s problem.”

An ECG is a simple test that can be used to check a person's heart rhythm and electrical activity.

Sensors attached to the skin are used to detect the electrical signals produced by your heart each time it beats.

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Aron was treated 11 days after his diagnosis by a cardiologist at University Hospitals of North Midlands.

Kerry had taken Aron and his younger sister Anya to a CRY screening day at Wrekin College in Wellington, funded by the Matthew Dewhirst Memorial Fund.

Former Ellesmere College student Matthew died in July 2012, aged 17, from a previously undiagnosed heart condition.

Since Matthew’s death, his parents Sue and Chris, who live near Oswestry, have campaigned tirelessly to raise awareness of young sudden cardiac death and CRY’s work, raising over £150,000 to date.

The money has helped with providing screening for about 2,300 people.

Kerry added: “Everyone involved with Aron’s swimming club at Wrekin College was incredibly supportive, as was our entire swimming community, following his diagnosis and subsequent treatment using a procedure known as ablation.

“Sue Dewhirst came to meet me and other parents at one of our galas and she gave a very inspiring and emotional speech.

"I continued to organise fundraising events at Shropshire county swimming galas, to support further CRY screenings in memory of Matthew.

"Aron and I were honoured to meet up with Sue again last summer so Aron could personally present a cheque for £1,500.”

Official figures, first published by CRY, show that every week in the UK about a dozen people under the age of 35 die suddenly from a previously undiagnosed heart condition.

Four out of five of these deaths will occur with no prior symptoms.

Sport itself does not actually cause sudden cardiac death, but it can significantly increase a young person’s risk if they have an underlying condition.

Chief executive of CRY, Dr Steven Cox said: “Aron’s story is becoming more and more common as we test increasing numbers of young people – with apparently no symptoms, no obvious family history or warning signs.

"It’s fantastic news that Aron was treated successfully and is now back to swimming at a competitive level and enjoying his first year at university, safe in the knowledge that his heart condition has been treated.

“CRY wants every young person to have the opportunity to have their heart checked and last year we tested almost 30,000 young people.

"One in 300 people we test will have a potentially life-threatening condition identified and research we published last year showed that of those athletes identified with conditions 75 per cent of them returned to competitive sport after being treated.

“We would like to thank Kerry for speaking out publicly about their experience and helping to promote the message that a diagnosis of a heart condition during adolescence does not mean the end of your dreams or pursuing your passions.

"With treatment or even lifestyle changes, you can continue to lead a normal, active life and like Aron, become an advocate of screening and the importance of the ECG test.”

The next screening, funded by the Matthew Dewhirst Memorial Fund, will be taking place at Wrekin College on May 4 and 5.

Lisa O'Brien

By Lisa O'Brien
Senior Reporter - @lisaobrien_Star

Senior reporter based at Shropshire Star's head office in Ketley. Covering the Telford area.

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