Stephens recounts how screening bill stalled

Scott Stephens
Scott Stephens
Scott Stephens

Speaking last week at the Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Highlands, Scott Stephens recounted for the audience the long path through this year’s Texas Legislature’s 84th session.

Stephens wants to provide heart screenings for all student athletes, to avoid the Sudden Cardiac Death that took the life of his son unexpectedly in 2002. His son Cody, a healthy looking football player in Crosby, had an undetected heart defect and died without warning at his family home.

Since that time, his father Scott has campaigned to provide ECG heart screening to all young athletes, at first with private donated funds, and eventually with the hope that school districts would include it in their regular screening process for students, athletes and others.

Stephens formed a private foundation, the Cody Stephens Foundation, and has raised over $500,000 to pay for 15,000 of these ECG tests last year. But he says there is the need to test many more, and he thinks the state should require all school districts to make this test available and in some cases mandatory.

During this session of the 84th Texas Legislature, there were 3 House bills and 1 Senate bill that were forwarding the proposal. Sponsors in the House were representatives Sylvester Turner, Wayne Smith, and Dan Huberty. Sponsor in the Senate was Chuy Hinojosa. The bills read “to prevent Sudden Cardiac Death (SCD) in student athletes by enhancing the current Pre-Participation Sports Physicals with the addition of an Electrocardiogram (ECG) in the first year and third year of participation. Student and parent may opt out for religious or financial reasons.”
Stephens stated that the cost for an ECG in this circumstance is approximately $15 per student.

Stephens said that SCD is the #1 medical killer of high school age students. (Unfortunately, vehicle crashes are the #1 killer otherwise.)

Stephens told how at first, he tried to get the board of the state UIL to adopt this policy, but they declined and advised him that he needed a law from the Legislature.

This process involved holding hearings, at which 20 speakers testified, and afterward the House Committee voted 11-0 to recommend a bill to the full House. However, in that forum it was defeated, 86-56 primarily on party lines.

In the Senate, the committee voted 6-5 against recommending it.

Some of the testimony at the hearings was against the requirement of screenings, for a variety of reasons. One doctor in particular, has been vocal against the need for this legislation. Arguments include: knowing the medical history of an athlete prior to the test; the ECG machine only catch 86% of the cases, and can generate false positives that can be expensive to follow up with additional tests; and several physician and medical groups, such as the College of Cardiologists have publicly opposed the bill. However, the American Heart Association has remained neutral on the subject.

On the effectiveness of the ECG tests, Stephens pointed out several local cases where athletes were identified and helped. Huffman ISD has been screening for several years, and after starting found a student with a problem they could help.

In general districts have been adopting the screenings. in 2013 only 5% were offering the test, and in 2015 this had increased to 20%. Of the 15,000 that the Foundation helped pay for last year, 18 students were found with a defect that required surgery to correct. The Foundation offers to pay for the first year of a district’s screening, if they will follow up themselves later.

Some colleges are also screening their athletes, including Lee College and San Jacinto College in this area.

Stephens said that the largest district in the area, Cy-Fair, will start screening this year, and in July the Crosby community will have an opportunity for anyone that wishes to have the screening done.

On August 29 the Foundation will hold a fund-raiser at the American Legion Hall, and the public is invited to participate.