Teen heart screenings catch rare disorders

Local family's tragedy turns to triumph

Jake Stewart had a screening that resulted in doctors diagnosing him with a rare disorder. The test may have saved his life.
Jake Stewart had a screening that resulted in doctors diagnosing him with a rare disorder. The test may have saved his life.

Five years ago, August Koontz went to bed and never woke up.

His death was due to an undiagnosed heart condition, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or HCM.

Two years after his death, his parents founded AugustHeart, a non-profit that provides free heart screenings for teens in Bexar county.

Through September 2013, the organization has done 4,474 screenings leading to 188 referrals.

"We are finding all of these kids, boys, girls that have other things like Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, valve issues, just all kinds of different things that you would never even think you have," said Amy Hayes, an AugustHeart board member as well as the chair of the new fundraising drive.

Kim Stewart heard about the screenings from a friend and took her son Jake, a freshman at Clark high school, to one this past June.

"It was truly just something on my list of things to do," said Kim. "It was just going to be a check off the list and we were shocked with what we found out that day."

Jake was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, essentially an extra circuit in his heart.

"I was just in shock," he said. "I didn't believe what was going on."

"He is passionate about sports and the idea that that could end, it hurt me for him," said Kim. "Every time I look at the [AugustHeart] logo my heart breaks for this family and I am so grateful that they have chosen to do what they're doing."

Three weeks after his diagnosis, Jake had a procedure for WPW and was back on the field shortly after.

Doctors said the surgery was necessary even if he never played sports again.

While the organization currently focuses on athletes, it recently began a fundraising campaign with a goal of screening every teen in Bexar county for free. The tests are not always covered by insurance and can run close to $1,000.

"We're making all these parents out there aware that there is a need, just like to get your vaccinations, that there is a need by the time you're a teenager, 14 years old, to get your heart tested," said Hayes. "You possibly could be one of these kids that has HCM."

AugustHeart will hold a free screening Saturday, Oct. 19, from 8 a.m. to noon at St. Luke's Baptist Hospital at 7930 Floyd Curl. They are for teens 14-18 and take about 20 minutes although wait times can vary.  

For a list of recent stories Charles Gonzalez has done, click here.