State Sens. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, and Carlo Leone, D-Stamford, and state Rep. Terrie Wood, R-Darien, joined Gov. Dannel P. Malloy July 25 for a signing ceremony to commemorate the passage of new legislation that will promote greater awareness of sudden cardiac arrest, an often deadly condition can strike children who otherwise appear healthy.
The senators and Wood worked to pass the bill earlier this year in cooperation with the family of Andy Pena, a Darien student-athlete who died of sudden cardiac arrest in 2011, just one month shy of turning 15. His family members looked on as the governor signed the bill.
"It is a frightening thought that even well-trained student athletes, who exercise regularly, may nevertheless fall victim to sudden cardiac arrest," Duff said in a news release. "This legislation will alert parents and coaches to this condition, and ensure that they are aware of and know how best to react to the condition's warning signs. These are sensible precautions which, with luck, may help to prevent future tragedies."
Leone added, "Sudden cardiac arrest is a deadly condition, and must be taken very seriously. With the adoption of this new law, coaches and parents will be better informed about sudden cardiac arrest, and better prepared to address it if and when it arises. Safety and student health must be our first priority in school athletics."
"Being a mother, I was particularly heartbroken when I heard about Andy Pena," Wood said. "I was happy to work closely with the Pena family in crafting this legislation and bringing it to the House Floor. If this law saves one life, than our work will be worth it."
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, SCA takes the lives of thousands of children every year. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates at least 2,000 such deaths occur annually.
The National Institutes of Health defines sudden cardiac arrest as a condition in which the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating. If this happens, blood stops flowing to the brain and other vital organs. SCA can happen in people who appear healthy and have no known heart disease or other risk factors. Most people who have SCA die from it -- often within minutes, though rapid treatment can be lifesaving.
"We are so grateful to the legislators and Governor Malloy for all their hard work. They truly listened to our concerns and implemented our ideas into the legislation," Giovanna Pena, Andy's mother, said. We are proud that his memory will love on and in turn, we hope this legislation will save a life in the future and prevent other families from going through what we have gone through."
Pena was a disciplined student and athlete, placing among the top 16 Connecticut swimmers in his age group in a backstroke event. As a high school freshman, he joined the track and field team and competed during the cross-country fall and winter indoor track seasons. While training on a treadmill for the spring track season, he was struck by sudden cardiac arrest and died.
His father, Victor, came to the State Capitol to participate in the ceremony.
"Sudden cardiac arrest doesn't only happen to adults, it happens to our children," he said. "The more athletes, their parents and coaches know about sudden cardiac arrest, the better prepared they will be if and when it happens. If we can spread this information, I hope we can prevent other families from having to experience what happened to ours."
The legislation, Public Act 14-93, will:
require the state Board of Education to develop a sudden cardiac arrest awareness education program for use by local boards of education, including warning signs and symptoms of SCA, risks of continuing activity after exhibiting warning signs and symptoms, how to obtain proper medical treatment and the proper method for returning a student who experiences SCA to sports.
requires the state Board of Education to develop and approve an informed consent form to for parents and legal guardians of students involved in intramural or interscholastic athletics regarding SCA,
requires coaches to annually review the SCA prevention program materials prior to coaching.
provides immunity to coaches for any actions or omissions regarding the program unless the coach's actions or omissions constitute wilful misconduct, gross negligence or recklessness.
Andy's parents, founded the Andy Smiles Forever Foundation in his memory, to educate the general public and support research on the causes and prevention of sudden cardiac death amongst youth.