FAIRFAX, Va. (WUSA9) -- You don't think you have to worry about your teenager having a heart attack. But, the leading cause of death for young athletes is sudden cardiac arrest.
A Clifton, Va. family who lost their son to an undetected heart condition has turned their grief into action. The Ryan Lopynski Big Heart Foundation is now screening hundreds of teens to save lives.
Ryan was only 18 years old when he died from sudden cardiac arrest. His whole life he had been an athlete. After graduating from Robinson Secondary School, he was in his freshman year at Virginia Tech. In the spring of 2009, he came home to Clifton for a visit. On a Sunday morning, he jumped in the shower and never came out.
"I had this crazy parent feeling that something was really wrong, I tell you," remembered John Lopynski. "I ran down, knocked on the door of the bathroom, he didn't respond. I opened it up with a key. He was on the bottom of the bathroom rub. I performed CPR, we called paramedics. He was unresponsive, passed away that day," said John.
Ryan died of an enlarged heart and a defect that doctors believe may have been caused by a virus. John and Jeremy Lopynski had no idea that Ryan had anything wrong with his heart. He had no symptoms.
Ryan had had many physicals. Any student who plays high school or college sports, which he did, must have a physical every year. But electro cardiograms are not required for physicals. Often, parents do not find out their child has a heart defect until it's too late.
"I feel like Ryan never left. We are constantly inspired from his energy from up above. I often hear his voice when I'm sleeping telling me that we can make a difference and that he can help," said Jeremy Lopynski.
Their foundation raised enough money to buy seven electro cardiogram machines so far. Fairfax County fire fighters and emergency medical technicians do the screenings at Fairfax county high schools and a few cardiologists give their time to explain the results to the parents and children.
"An EKG can identify certain arrhythmias or risk for arrhythmia or sudden death," explained cardiologist Dr. Felix Castro, who says he volunteers his time because he believes it can save lives…and his son knew Ryan.
What inspires Castro and the Lopynskis the most if that their EKG screenings have caught 65 abnormalities in teen athletes so far this spring in Fairfax County, and at their screening at Virginia Tech.
John gets emotional remembering what the doctor at the Virginia Tech screening said about catching a very serious problem in one student. "The cardiologist looked at us and said, 'those parents should thank you, because their kid may not have been here tomorrow.' "
The Lopynskis want to expand their services… and much more.
"EKG screenings in Europe are mandatory. And we're trying to make them mandatory in the United States as well," said Jeremy.
They started their screenings at Robinson and Centreville High School last year, and because they went so well, they expanded this year to seven screenings. So far this year, they've done Centreville, South County and McLean, as well as Virginia Tech. They have three more screenings for Fairfax County students at West Springfield High School on Saturday, May 31 from 9-3; Robinson High School on Tuesday, June 10 from 4-8; and West Potomac High School on Saturday, June 28 from 9-3.
You can check their website at www.ryanlopynski.org for screening availability.
"For those not in Fairfax County, I wish we could be all places to all people," Jeremy says. She grew up in Montgomery County and wants to expand there next year. "As we continue the momentum we will grow, and spread the awareness for others to continue on the path of free EKG screenings in their area should they feel the same passion. Eventually, we would like it to be a mandatory screening."
The Lopynskis report these results from their screenings this spring:
- Centreville 272 teens 22 abnormalities
- South County 220 teens 18 abnormalities
- Virginia Tech 240 teens 7 abnormalities
- McLean 173 teens 13 abnormalities