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Heart of a Teenager. Heart of a Champion.

On May 23, 2012, Adam Thompson, 16, leapt out of bed much earlier than usual, excited for his first day of driver’s education – a milestone in his book. It meant that his sweet sixteen party and his driver’s license would happen soon.

The world was waiting for him and he was ready.

His mom, Ann, dropped him off at school that morning. She wished him good luck and told him she’d see him when she got home from work.

As the day progressed, though, Ann couldn’t help but think of her son’s excitement and decided she wanted to surprise him instead.

“The plan was for him to walk home and just call me when he got there,” says Ann. “But I decided I didn't have any meetings or anything going on that day, and it’d be nice to pick him up after his first day.”

So that’s exactly what she did. After she picked him up, Adam filled her in on his first day of driver’s ed while the two ran errands and picked up dinner. His day was great, as expected, and he was most excited to find that driver’s ed was a group class and that he wouldn’t be driving alone.

“He liked being with people,” says Ann. “Adam was a very fun kid. He was all about fun and he liked to laugh.”

The unthinkable

As the two pulled in the driveway around 5:30 p.m., Adam’s demeanor changed. He was suddenly quiet and said to his mom, “My heart’s going really fast. I think I’m kind of short of breath, too.”

Ann looked at him and thought he looked fine.

“There wasn’t anything alarming about it,” says Ann.

So Adam grabbed his driver’s ed book and headed into the house while Ann unloaded the car. She came into the house to hear Adam telling his dad, Troy, about his day with the same excitement he had shared with her moments before.

But then, he said, “I’m kind of tired. I’m going to go take a nap.”

Adam went to lie down and minutes later Ann and Troy heard a loud bang.

“We went into the bedroom and he was lying on the floor in between the bed and the wall,” says Ann. “At first, we thought he was joking around. But he wasn’t moving. So we started shaking him and we saw that he was blue in the face.”

Adam’s nine-year-old little sister, Abby, grabbed the phone and dialed 911. The ambulance arrived shortly after and paramedics pronounced him dead on the scene, no more than 38 minutes after Ann and Adam walked into the house.

“It happened so fast. And we had no idea why,” says Ann.

The next morning, they received a phone call from a detective who said Kenneth Snell, MD, a pathologist at Sanford Health, had completed the autopsy. The detective told Ann she needed to grab a pen and write down what he was about to tell her.

“He had me write down hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. He said Adam's heart was four times the thickness of a normal heart,” says Ann.

Heart of a Champion “could have saved my son’s life”

Never having heard of this disease, Ann and Troy first turned to the Internet and later called Dr. Snell. They learned that hypertrophic cardiomyopathy happens when the heart muscle grows too thick, so the heart gets bigger and its chambers get smaller. There’s no cure for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, although there are treatments available, However, because there are few if any symptoms of this disease, many people – like Adam – don’t know they have it. It’s also genetic. In fact, it’s the most common genetic heart disease, affecting about 1 in 500 adults.

“The biggest message was that Abby could have it. So, we went into action,” says Ann.

The family made an appointment with William Waltz, MD, a pediatric cardiologist at Sanford Health, along with a genetic counselor.

Abby underwent testing and a special screening at Sanford that was developed for young people age 12-24. It’s called Heart of a Champion, and it’s the only youth screen of its kind in the region to be examined by board-certified pediatric cardiologists. Once the screen has been read, the results are shared with the family’s regular doctor.

Much to the family’s relief, Abby’s heart is normal. During the testing, however, Ann learned for the first time that Sanford Health routinely offers these screens to patients. She was surprised.

“I hadn’t heard of heart screens before Adam died. I was beside myself,” says Ann. “This $50 echocardiogram could have saved my son's life.”

Awareness and prevention

Because of this experience, the Thompsons are now actively involved in the community, bringing awareness to this disease and demonstrating the importance of heart screening.

“As a parent, we obviously don’t want anyone else to go through this, and so the awareness and the prevention part is very important to us.”

The world was waiting for Adam. He had his whole life in front of him. Ann and Troy Thompson want to make sure that other children can live a full life, even though their own son could not.

“Get a heart screening. For you, for your children,” says Ann. “Thinking what happened to us will never happen to you isn’t how you need to think when it comes to your kids.”

For more information about Heart of a Champion and other preventive health screens call Sanford Center for Health and Well-being at (605) 312-2150.

Posted Date: March 2013