Local foundation provides free heart screenings to prevent sudden cardiac arrest

After Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest, mom who lost teen son reminds parents about heart screenings

SAN ANTONIO - – People across the nation are waiting anxiously for updates on Bills NFL player Damar Hamlin, who collapsed on the field Monday night after a sudden cardiac arrest.

At last check, he’s still sedated at a hospital in critical condition.

“It was frightening. I didn’t leave the TV. I couldn’t leave until it stopped airing,” said San Antonio mom, Doré Foody.

That’s because Foody lost her 18-year-old son August Koontz to sudden cardiac arrest in 2008.

“August had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is probably the rarest one,” Foody said.

That’s just one of many heart defects that can cause cardiac arrest without notice.

“They don’t feel bad, and then suddenly one day their heart starts beating erratically,” said Dr. Allen Anderson, Director of University Health’s Heart and Vascular Institute and the head of cardiology at both University Hospital and UT Health San Antonio.

Dr. Anderson sees many cases of sudden cardiac arrest and said there is another possible cause for a patient like Hamlin, who was hit in the chest before his cardiac arrest.

It’s a condition called commotio cordis, which is a heart rhythm disturbance that arises from a sudden impact to the heart. “Usually by a flying projectile like a baseball or a hockey puck or a lacrosse ball,” he said.

Anderson said it’s rare, but he sees a few cases a year.

“It causes the electrical system to become chaotic, and so the heart just immediately starts functioning. People who have very good hearts might tolerate being in that rhythm for a few seconds. They might stand up, not feel well, and then suddenly collapse,” he explained.

He emphasized that the prognosis depends on how quickly circulation is able to be restored.

That means immediate CPR, and then the use of a defibrillator is necessary.

“The machine will read the rhythm and tell you if it’s a shockable rhythm. Which is why you see AEDs at airports, and sporting events, and at concerts,” he said.

His patients who experience sudden cardiac arrest are treated in a way similar to what has been released about Hamlin.

“Typically, in these situations, people are cooled. We lower their body temperature and sedate them for a period of 24 hours or so because there are studies that suggest that may reduce the risk of brain injury. It’s called therapeutic cooling. Then after that, you’ll warm the patient back up, you withdraw the sedation, and assess neurological function,” Anderson said.

The hope is that sudden cardiac arrest can be prevented, and that happens with heart screenings.

“We screen for five different abnormalities that cause sudden death with no symptoms,” Foody said.

After her son’s death, Foody and her family created the August Heart Foundation, providing free screenings to any teenager in the area.

“This past year, we’ve tested 7,800 and had 57 referrals, just in 2022 alone,” Foody said.

Many local schools work with the foundation to test their athletes, but Foody wants the public to know every teenager should be screened, whether or not they’re an athlete.

If you want to set up a free screening for your child, your sports team, or your school, head to the August Heart Foundation website or call (210) 267-2771.


About the Authors

Courtney Friedman anchors KSAT’s weekend evening shows and reports during the week. Her ongoing Loving in Fear series confronts Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She joined KSAT in 2014 and is proud to call the SA and South Texas community home. She came to San Antonio from KYTX CBS 19 in Tyler, where she also anchored & reported.

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