It’s been a few years since the Texas Heart Institute (THI) first joined forces with HISD to offer free heart screenings to district students, but since the initiative’s launch in 2010, this innovative partnership has already provided potentially life-saving information to more than four dozen young people and their families.
Of the more than 3,000 middle-schoolers who had completed the free screenings by the end of 2012, at least 50 were flagged for abnormal results. Ten—or 20 percent of those—are unrelated to the original purpose of the study, which is to identify congenital heart conditions. Most of the anomalies are in the coronary arteries or the heart muscle itself, but others involve “spots” on the lungs, liver or kidneys that bear further investigation.
“It’s still early in the game, but the bottom line is we’re learning stuff that we didn’t know,” said Dr. Anthony Masso, who oversees the study and manages the THI’s Center for Coronary Artery Anomalies.
Masso said that parents of students with abnormal results are encouraged to follow up with a specialist as soon as possible, but if they lack the financial resources to do so, his team provides information on the Children’s Health Insurance Plan/Medicaid to help pay for additional care.
“This is not something that a regular pediatrician can handle,” said Dr. Masso. “The follow up needs to come from a pediatric cardiologist.”
And while Dr. Masso emphasized that the screenings were designed to identify potential problems, “normal” results could not be used as proof of eligibility for participation in athletics programs.
“This is a type of screening, not a clinical diagnostic service,” he said. “It is governed by a research agreement and is subject to annual renewal every July. But we greatly value the opportunity to work with the district, and the parents who give us permission to participate. We plan to turn this right back around to their benefit, and as long as the district will have us, we’re going to do it.”
Middle schools that have already been visited by the THI’s mobile unit include: Lanier, Pershing, Pin Oak, Revere, and Welch. The van is currently at Stevenson MS, with Hogg and Dowling on the horizon. Principals who would like to have the mobile unit visit their campuses should contact Dr. Masso directly at CCAA@Texasheart.org or 713-218-2112.
“This is about making sure kids have healthy hearts,” Dr. Masso added. “Everything we do is driven by that concern.”