DARIEN, Conn. – Darien’s state senators are pushing for new legislation to spread awareness about sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), a condition that took the life of Darien teenager Andy Peña nearly three years ago.
“Sudden cardiac arrest doesn’t only happen to adults, it happens to our children. The more that athletes, their parents and coaches know about sudden cardiac arrest, the better prepared they will be if and when it happens,” said Victor Peña, Andy’s father and co-founder of the Andy Smiles Foundation in his honor. “If we can spread this information, I hope we can prevent other families from having to experience what happened to ours.”
An accomplished swimmer and runner, Andy Peña was working out on a treadmill in March 2011 when he died suddenly of complications due to sudden cardiac arrest. Then a freshman at Darien High School, Andy was a month shy of his 15th birthday.
Sudden cardiac arrest causes the heart to stop beating unexpectedly, and can lead to death in minutes without immediate treatment. Though it most frequently affects people with heart disease, it can occur in both adults and children who appear normally healthy.
“The best preparation against a sudden-onset condition is to be informed about its signs and symptoms, and to know what to do when it appears. Greater awareness can save lives, and that is what we are aiming to do here,” state Sen. Carlo Leone (D-Stamford and Darien) said at a press conference on Thursday Feb. 28.
Leone joined state Sen. Bob Duff (D-Norwalk and Darien) and state Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney (D-New Haven) at the state capitol to advocate for new legislation aimed at increasing awareness of SCA in student athletics. The group spoke in Hartford before a public hearing on Senate Bill 229, which is now being considered by the Connecticut General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Children.
The bill would require schools to provide information to parents and students on sudden cardiac arrest risks and warning signs before each athletic season. Coaches and other school staff members would also be trained to recognize those warning signs, and take all student-athletes showing those signs out of competitions or practices until they can be evaluated by medical staff.
“The more student athletes and their coaches are informed about sudden cardiac arrest, the safer they will be, and the more they can focus on their sport without worrying,” Duff said.
Darien resident Vicki O’Rourke, joined the state senators in advocating for the bill. O'Rourke's nephew found out at a free screening that he had an undetected heart problem, which could have resulted in a sudden cardiac arrest if not found.
“It is an awareness bill that will make SCA a household name,” O’Rourke said. “Once that happens, we, as a state and as a community of coaches, educators and parents, will be saving our children's lives.”