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Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), is a common and alarming cause of death among youth. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 2,000 young, seemingly healthy people under age 25 in the United States die each year of sudden cardiac arrest.  Furthermore, on average, every 3 days within the United States, a competitive athlete experiences an SCA.

The survival rate is only 5-7% if the victim is not treated before paramedics arrive. Studies show that with immediate CPR and/or defibrillation administered within minutes of cardiac arrest, survival rates are doubled or tripled, leading to better neurological outcomes. Survival depends on individuals on the scene calling 911, starting CPR and using an AED as soon as possible. 

For this reason, all athletic facilities should have an AED nearby, along with a Cardiac Emergency Response Plan to save the lives of athletic SCA victims.

What Is Sudden Cardiac Arrest?

Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) is not a heart attack. It’s a life-threatening emergency that occurs when the heart suddenly stops beating.  It can strike people of all ages, including children and teens. Normal heart rhythm can only be restored with CPR and defibrillation. 

“Of the leading causes of youth death (accidents, suicide, homicide, cancer and heart conditions), sudden cardiac arrest is the only one that can be prevented through primary and secondary prevention strategies.”  –

What are the potential indicators that put student-athletes at risk of SCA?

The first symptom of SCA is often death.  However, some individuals may have signs or symptoms, such as:

  • Fainting (#1 symptom of a potential heart condition) or seizure, especially right after exercise.
  • Heart Palpitations (racing or fluttering of heartbeat)
  • Chest pain or discomfort while exercising
  • Excessive shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Extreme fatigue (tiredness) during exercise

These symptoms are often confused with physical exhaustion. An SCA can be prevented if the underlying causes can be diagnosed and treated.

Screening Athletes for the Prevention of SCA

SCA is the #1 killer of student-athletes and the leading cause of death on school campuses. Screening and education are important steps toward the prevention of sudden cardiac death in young athletes. Some states in the United States have implemented laws requiring sudden cardiac arrest‬ prevention protocols be implemented. 

A great source for screening information and resources for parents, youth, coaches and athletic directors is the Eric Paredes Save a Life Foundation.  Visit the site for tools and resources for identifying and screening for SCA warning signs.

Maryland Takes Action

Maryland law, as of July 1, 2022, requires each middle school and high school to develop a venue-specific, emergency action plan for the operation and use of automatic external defibrillators (AEDs), and heat acclimatization, as specified. 

AEDs have been required in Maryland middle and high schools for some time. However, under this NEW law, schools must now craft AED EAPs that ensure:

  1. an automated external defibrillator is provided on-site and is located at or within a brief walk from an athletic practice or event on school property.
  2. an automated external defibrillator is freely accessible during all school functions.
  3. all members of the coaching staff are trained in the operation and use of an automated external defibrillator.
  4. a trained member of the coaching staff is present at all athletic practices and events on school property.

EAPs must be posted and distributed, available on the school’s website, and rehearsed before each sports season. You can reference the new House Bill 836 law here.

AEDs on Athletic Fields

The death of a student athlete is always a catastrophic event with devastating effects on a family, teammates, school, and the local community. The strategic placement of defibrillators (AEDs) on or near the athletic field can provide a means of early action. An accessible AED, trained personnel  and a well executed Cardiac Emergency Response plan can vastly improve a young athlete’s chances of survival in a sudden cardiac situation.


Being prepared and educated on how to respond to an emergency is critical to the positive outcome of a sudden cardiac event.  

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