The death of a teenage athlete from a heart defect in June has led to creation of a program at St. John’s Medical Center to screen teens for potentially fatal genetic heart conditions.

It’s estimated that 1 in 250 students are at risk for potentially fatal heart abnormalities.

Discussion about screening athletes involved in school and other athletic programs began after the sudden death of Kayden Quinn Tapia. The teenager was found dead on the Snake River dike, and authorities first suspected foul play. But an autopsy found that Tapia had died of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, “the most common cause of sudden death in athletes,” Dr. Ellan Gallant told the Jackson Hole News&Guide at the time.

The condition is one in which the heart walls are thicker than normal. It usually displays no symptoms until cardiac arrest, typically as a result of exertion.

Dr. Gallant, a cardiologist at St. John’s, approached the hospital and Teton County School District about setting up a screening program. She had participated in such programs elsewhere.

The first screening clinic for Teton County athletes is scheduled from 8 a.m. to noon Oct. 8. It will be free for students participating in school and community sports.

St. John’s visiting pediatric cardiologist Jason Su is also volunteering his time to help get the clinic off the ground, hospital Director of Community Relations Karen Connelly said.

The medical center envisions an annual clinic for teens entering high school.

“We may hold additional clinics this year to catch up with the demand, since it hasn’t been offered here before,” Connelly said.

High school athletes ages 14 to 18 will be screened for genetic conditions including hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. According to St. John’s, HCM is the leading cause of sudden cardiac death in young athletes.

“HCM usually goes undetected,” Dr. Gallant said in a news release. “It can be difficult to pick up during a routine sports examination but very easily detected during the painless tests offered during the clinic. Unless cardiac symptoms or history are present — in which case your pediatrician can refer you to a cardiologist for a full workup — a heart screening at around age 15 is all that is needed.”

The new St. John’s Medical Center program is being modeled after the Championship Hearts Foundation program, which has screened more than 20,000 students since it was instituted in 2000. The screening will include two kinds of tests — a 12-lead ECG and a limited two-dimensional echocardiogram — that are not included in standard sports physical examinations and are noninvasive, painless and sometimes very expensive.

If additional screenings are determined to be necessary, St. John’s is working with Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City to provide follow-up care.

Support from the St. John’s Hospital Foundation and Shirley’s Heart Run is helping the medical center pay for the screening. Teton County School District is participating as well.

More information can be learned at the clinic. To sign up for a screening or volunteer for the event, go to

Contact Kylie Mohr at 732-7079 or

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