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What If – A Dad’s Random Thoughts

The mission of this foundation is to partner with schools to implement heart screening programs with electrocardiogram as a part of pre-participation physicals, and raise awareness that Sudden Cardiac Arrest is preventable.  

This is a 501C(3) corporation under IRS code section 170C (2).

What If – A Dad’s Random Thoughts

By Scott Stephens

What if, a question I play out in my mind every day since May 6, 2012, the day I lost my son Cody Stephens to sudden cardiac arrest.  So many unanswered questions; why, how, when…the list is endless.  As a parent who lives in this realm of questions, I resoundingly hear my 6’9” 289 pound son telling me these words everyday “Go Big or Go Home Dad!”  He said these words almost as a farewell message to me just 10 days before he left.  At the time, neither he nor I fully understood their consequences to his dad.  He said them as a message about the way he would live his life, not as a message to the one who heard the words.

Now he is gone and I’m left with his message “Go Big or Go Home Dad” and my what if questions about how to do it.  I have tried to push the message to provide heart screening opportunities to our students to all who will hear.  I’ve had many victories both at the school level and individuals who have discovered unknown heart risks.  I think I’m living Cody’s parting instructions to me. But the what if’s remain as I address this essay to the Texas UIL and Texas Legislature as it contemplates a law that would enhance our physicals to include an ECG at least twice in a student athletes career.  The law we proposed in 2013 was known as HB 1319.  It died in committee.

What if these doctors are right?

            “I believe that with the new upgraded screening recommend in this bill, HB 1319, we can better identify those young children with underlying cardiovascular conditions that puts them at higher risk of sudden cardiac death.  Our collective experiences indicate that the only way to stem the tide of these sudden cardiac deaths is to diagnose and manage these conditions before any such fatal event occurs.”

 - John P. Higgins MD, Principal Investigator of HEARTS (Houston Early Age Risk Testing & Screening study)  

What if Paolo Angelini MD is right?

"This is Dr. Paolo Angelini, the Medical Director of the Center for Coronary Artery Anomalies at the Texas Heart Institute in Houston, specialized in research on the prevention of Sudden Cardiac Death in the young Athletes. This brief message is meant only to confirm emphatically that a simple EKG tracing is an essential, simple and innocuous means of preventing sudden death in the young. For some conditions predisposing to these preventable, horrible tragedies on our playing fields, a 10-15 $ investment in our youth is quite a cost/effective means of saving lives! I commend the Legislature for introducing this important and overdue item on the Texas House!"

What if Dr Angelini’s scientific study at the Texas Heart Institute, that was presented in April at the American College of cardiology.  “The basic messages: in 1,836 cases (high school ages, at HISD), an EKG and a Screening MRI were done, jointly with filling a questionnaire for cardiac history. Previously, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology and the Society for Sports Medicine considered that probably 0.3% of the general population have "high risk" cardiovascular conditions.  We found 29 cases with "high risk" cardiovascular conditions (1.6% of cases).”

What if he is right and these conditions are 5 times higher than the AMA publishes.

What if Asif Ali MD - UT Health Science Center is right when he says the current physicals catch 3% of heart abnormalities? He further states that we must change from a reactive system to a proactive system.

What if Thomas L. DeBauche, MD, FACC who has interpreted over 100,000 screenings is right?

“Finding students who have heart conditions while they are teens not only prevents sudden cardiac death on the playing field now, it lowers the cost of treatment due to early detection and reduces the number of deaths later, in college and beyond.  I recommend the House Bill 1319 be passed and made into law.”

What if a new study by Jonathan Drezner, MD, President of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM) is right when it states that NCAA-funded research study supports the addition of electrocardiogram (ECG) screening to the standardized pre-participation exams for athletes to better identify cardiac abnormalities that lead to sudden cardiac death (SCD) – the leading cause of death in athletes during sport.

What if Chris Aguilar is right when he spoke these words on Cody’s birthday?

Hi my name is Chris Aguilar, I am able to stand here today and Express to all of you how grateful that my family and I are that Hargrave High School in Huffman ISD and The Cypress Creek ECG Project did an EKG Screening on me August 2011, which was abnormal and diagnosed me with a severe Heart Condition.  Dr. Jeff Kim MD, cardiologist at Texas Children’s Hospital did 12 ablations of my heart March 2012. I was in Heart surgery for 7 hours; which turned out to be a Success. Now I can continue my passion of playing football and by volunteering as a Huffman volunteer firefighter.  The thing that saddens me the most is not getting to know Cody Stephens. It touched my heart, when I read Cody's story. I feel like Cody is telling me that I have to do my part now for him and all the others to spread our life stories and try and save as many lives as we can! 

So now I stand here before you today and read this for Cody.  Hi my name is Cody Stephens and today is my birthday I would be celebrating my 19th birthday with my family and loved ones if only my school would have done an EKG of my heart. I am saddened to say that I left this world having a heart condition that nobody knew I had. I am saddened to know that a simple EKG could have saved my life. So today, I ask from all of you this as a birthday wish to please do everything you can in your power to make it mandatory to have an EKG screening done on all students that participate in athletics please! It can detect Heart Disease and save someone's life.

I am living proof! My name is Chris Aguilar, I am 16 years old. The EKG done on me diagnosed my Heart Condition and it SAVED MY LIFE!  Thank you so much for your time!

What if Shayli hadn’t had an ECG at her School? Could her mother state these words?

From : Linda Christensen

·         Subject : Shayli's EKG victory story

·         Message : Dear Mr. Stephens, I would be happy to help your cause in any way I can! I will be forever indebted to Dr. Debauche and the Cypress ECG Project for what they did for Shayli! She has had numerous physicals, doctors appts, etc., but nobody ever said ANYTHING about a heart problem until she had the EKG at school. If I had to go to a doctor and pay for the test, I would not have done that because I never had any reason to believe anything was wrong with her. She runs, tumbles, has cheered for years, and we never had any indication of any problems. Because of the EKG test, she has undergone successful open heart surgery and is fully expected to live a healthy, normal life including cheering again next fall! Please let me know what else Shayli or I can do to help!

What if Jim Dees is right?

Kathy Arnold & I were invited to be part of a group interview about ECG screenings yesterday afternoon.  Coach Mac, Chris Aguilar, Chris’s mother, Dr. Moore, the superintendent of Crosby ISD, and the parents of Cody Stephens were also part of the interview. Chris Aguilar is our student who had a serious heart issue that was caught by our ECG screening program and subsequently corrected.

Cody Stephens was a senior at Crosby High School who had received a football scholarship to Tarleton State. He died in a recliner, a victim of sudden cardiac death, last May. The Stephens and Dr. Moore are trying to get an ECG screening program established at Crosby ISD. The interview lasted nearly two hours and I found it very emotional.  I was fighting back tears the whole time.  While listening to Mrs. Aguilar and the Stephens tell their stories I was struck by the stark contrast between the two families. Mrs. Aguilar happy to have Chris healthy and playing football again. The Stephens still trying deal with the loss of their son and the hole in their hearts that will never heal.

It got me thinking. What if Cynthia hadn’t brought up the idea of doing ECG screenings at Huffman ISD? What if Kathy hadn’t found the Cypress ECG Project? What if you, the SHAC, hadn’t had the conviction and the courage to make the recommendation for mandatory ECG screening to the board?  What if the board hadn’t had the courage to be trendsetters and hadn’t approved mandatory ECG screenings? If any of those things had not happened the Aguilars would very likely have been mourning the loss of their son just like the Stephens.

I wish you all could have been at the interview yesterday. There is no way that I can adequately put into words the emotions I felt meeting the Stephens and hearing their story. It is quite different reading their story in the paper and hearing it firsthand. I am so proud of our SHAC. I wanted to share this with you and to tell you again how grateful I am for all you do as members of the SHAC. We really do make a difference.   Jim Dees Science/Health Coordinator Huffman Independent School District

What if this dad of a child who has a 25 mm hole in his heart that was detected for the first time with his school ECG at Langham Creek HS is right?

 "Every one of the doctors we have seen - and we have seen a lot - have said how grateful we should be that (our son) had an ECG done."

What if every parent had the opportunity to make an informed decision? If every parent could hear my story of unbelievable pain and anguish over the possibly preventable death of my child, they might have the same reaction as this UIL Staff member who said: "Scott, even if the UIL doesn't or can't mandate the ECG as a part of sports physicals, I, as a dad, assure you that my children will be screened."

What if these school districts I’ve worked with personally and are now screening or planning to screen are right and we can prevent sudden cardiac death or other less serious heart issues for $20 or less?  Aldine, Bangs, Barbers Hill, Baytown Christian Academy, Bastrop, Beaumont, Brenham, Brownwood, Bryan, Channelview, Coleman, College Station, Comanche, Conroe, Crosby,  Dayton, Dickinson, Galena Park, Gatesville, Goose Creek, Hampshire-Fannett, Hardin, Humble, Industrial, LaPorte, Liberty, Lubbock, May, Pearland, Saginaw, San Angelo, San Jac College, Santa Anna, Sheldon, Spring, Spurgier, Sweeney, Texas City, Weslaco, W Hardin and Zephyr.

What if the many groups or hospitals providing heart screenings at a free or reduced rate are right and this should be available to all our students?

What if the Rotary Clubs that have taken on this assisting in this task are the tip of the iceberg on how many of your constituents will get behind this enhancement.  Ask the Rotary Clubs of Houston, North Shore, Highlands, Baytown, Sweeney, Brenham, Brazosports, Heights, West University, Texas City, Dickinson, or Pasadena.  All these clubs have stood up and said we want to help!  Ask the Gatesville Lions Club.

What if the events held for my son because he was going to be a productive member of our adult community for the next 70 years and communities have mourned his loss by retiring both his high school and college jersey, breaking a record to buy his grand champion hog, wrote songs and poems about him, started a foundation to pay for heart screenings by raising over $1,000,000 honoring him by painting Go Big or Go Home on weight lifting nights, shirts, press boxes, car windows, bodies, lockers and wedding dresses.  What if they are right and his death could have been prevented by a $20 ECG.  Who will be the next 6’9” hometown hero to read to our school kids or take them fishing after he bought them a rod and reel?  Who will be the next student to kneel down to take a picture with a crippled child while stretching his too small jersey over his 320 pound body? Yes we lost a winner, again and again.  All because there is “no data” that says we can stop it.

What if Rep Wayne Smith is right and we lost a student that deserved a Texas House Resolution HR 370 to be read on the Texas house floor in February of 2012?

What if Tarleton State Head football coach Cary Fowler was right when he said "There are some things we can learn from a guy like Cody.  He was a leader. He went to elementary schools and read to children. He was involved in his community and church and active in his school. He's everything we want in our student-athletes. That's why we are always finding ways to get our athletes out in the community, is to develop leadership skills. Cody already had those.  This is a big loss for Tarleton, not just because we believe he would have been a great football player for us, but because we believed he would be a great ambassador for everything this program and this university stands for, I hate it for us, but I really hate it for that family, especially with it occurring during what should have been such a happy time in their lives.”  What if it could have been found?

What if Former Crosby Superintendent Dr Keith Moore was right when he said “We lost a special kid, a great soul with a big heart.  He was an awesome kid that would of made a big impact on Crosby and a lot of other communities.”  What if we keep losing these kids?

What if Dr Higgins was right when he said I have review Cody’s autopsy findings and believe that an electrocardiogram (ECG) performed prior to his sports participation would have been abnormal and likely led to his condition being discovered and may have saved his young life?

What if we can stop or at least slow it?  Are we not going to try?  I will no longer accept the things I cannot change.  I will change the things I cannot accept.  There is another Cody Stephens in our ranks with an unknown heart defect. What if we can find him or her?

What if the UIL Medical Advisory Committee is right and there is no data that says this saves lives?  Aren’t the parents out just about $40 over a student’s athletic career and they have received 2 noninvasive ECG’s and we keep on losing just as many students.  Not much risk in that.

What if the UIL Medical Advisory Committee is right and Cody Stephens, Jason Mouton, Jacob Simmons, Cody Jones, Brandon Goyne, Falobi Akanbi, Mikey Pratt, Dustin Chan, Desmond Pollard, Amy Gonzales and Mario Miranda, Jr  among others aren’t enough data and Chris Aguilar, Shayli Christenson and the many untold victory stories aren’t either?

What if Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner is right and we can carry the ball for Cody and save numerous lives just by adding a simple ECG to our sports physicals?  Wouldn’t you want that?

What if, now that you are in the loop of knowledge, will you have to say to a parent the words Karen Schrah of said to me “I am so sorry and wish my efforts could have helped Cody.”?

Seems pretty easy to me, as a parent who lost my hero to sudden cardiac arrest.  I want our student athletes to have the opportunity to receive a physical enhanced by an ECG screening and I’m willing to Go Big or Go Home to see that it happens!  Pass Cody’s Law, Screen ‘em all!  Cody doesn’t need any more teammates in heaven.  I will no longer accept the things I cannot change; I will change the things I cannot accept.

Scott P Stephens, President

Cody Stephens Go Big or Go Home Memorial Foundation

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