Test could save lives

A rare but devastating condition has been highlighted in a parliamentary debate initiated by a New Forest MP. Dr Julian Lewis, who represents New Forest East, is spearheading a campaign for health screening to identify people most at risk from sudden death syndrome, which kills at least four young people in the UK every week.

He sited the case of one of his constituents – Sarah Woodhead of Hythe, who died suddenly in 1997 at the age of 28. ‘Sarah, a non-smoker who had never been ill, suffered a massive heart seizure and died as a result of this condition,’ said Dr Lewis. The MP said two groups are particularly at risk – those who have a family history of death at a young age, and where young people are engaged in serious sport.

Some ten years ago, a charitable group, Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY) was set up by Alison Cox, the wife of former British number one tennis player Mark, after their son Steven’s fortuitous screening and discovery of the condition while he was at college in America. Steven decided to give up a professional tennis career that may have proved fatal and is alive and well aged 27.

Health Minister Yvette Cooper identified a number of critical questions which needed to be examined when deciding whether a screening programme was a good idea. She promised to look at the whole issue and said she would be asking the national screening committee for an update on new treatment possibilities. She also revealed that Health Department officials would be meeting CRY later in the summer and hoped they would be able to discuss the priorities that should be taken into consideration when awarding funding.

Sarah Woodhead’s widower Adrian, a police officer, is supporting Dr Lewis’s campaign.

‘Sarah had a family history of this condition,’ he said. ‘We want to raise awareness of it and try to get something done.

Dr Lewis said: ‘More than half of the 200-plus young people who die so tragically every year could be saved by medical intervention and change of lifestyle, particularly because so many of those who die are very active.’

‘They are particularly likely to be engaged in serious and energetic sport, and sometimes they are engaged in professional sport.’

With permission from the New Forest Post