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Heart Screening: Results give family peace of mind

| Patient Stories | Heart Health | Healthy You

Joey Peterson and a girl smiling for the camera

Nurse discovers her own son has dangerous condition

As a neonatal intensive care nurse, Kristi Riscili sees more than her share of children with life-threatening and life-changing heart defects. But she never guessed something might be wrong with her child’s heart.

A free heart screening offered in February 2017 at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend revealed that Kristi’s now-17-year-old son, Joey Peterson, had an extra electrical pathway in his heart — a potentially dangerous condition known as Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome.

“We were shocked — absolutely shocked,” said Kristi, who works in RiverBend’s NICU.

Though benign in many people, Wolff-Parkinson-White can cause heart palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath, fainting, fatigue and anxiety. In rare cases, it can result in sudden cardiac death.

After discussing options with his pediatric cardiologist, Eric Johnson, MD, Joey and his parents decided to go ahead with a surgical procedure called ablation to eliminate the extra pathway.

“It was kind of a difficult decision because I was a little worried about having complications and not being able to run for track season, but I also didn’t want to have to worry about it and have potential problems in the future,” said Joey, a member of the cross country and track teams at Marist High School.

Oregon Health & Science University pediatric electrophysiologist, Seshadri Balaji, MD, performed the ablation on Feb. 7 — nearly a year after the free heart screening at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart revealed the problem.

“Dr. Balaji explained everything about the procedure to my parents and I, and we decided that even though there are risks associated with the procedure, it would be worth it to have it done,” said Joey.

Joey was back at school — and back at track practice — just a few days later.

Kristi’s mother-in-law had told her about Sacred Heart’s free, twice-yearly teen heart screenings, and is grateful she signed Joey up. He’s an active kid — he plays basketball and runs — and that places him at greater risk.

“I know many people don’t think of heart disease or defects as something that affects teenagers, and for most of them, it doesn’t,” Dr. Johnson said. “But pediatric heart problems can lead to health problems and in rare cases, sudden death.”

The PeaceHealth screenings can detect hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the heart problem that’s most often associated with sudden death in active teens.

“The condition is caused by a genetic problem that causes an abnormal thickening and enlargement of the heart muscle,” Dr. Johnson explained. “There may be no obvious symptoms, and it can be hard to detect with a routine physical exam.”

Led by PeaceHealth’s Pediatric Cardiology team, the Teen Heart Screenings are intended to supplement, not replace, those routine physical exams, Dr. Johnson noted. They include an electrocardiogram, blood pressure check, diagnostic results report, information on nutrition and height, weight and body mass index measurements. A physician will go over the results with teens and guardians, leaving time for questions. Participants will also get a quick lesson in chest-compression-only CPR and distracted-driving simulation exercise.

Of the 73 teens attending the last screening in October, 19 were referred for further evaluation.

Kristi volunteered at PeaceHealth's February teen heart screening in Oregon. “This is such a valuable service,” she said. “I’ve texted all my friends to tell them about the next screening. If there’s nothing wrong, it provides reassurance — and if there is something wrong, it could save a life.”  

Photos provided courtesy of Peterson family.