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Nick of Time Screenings Aim to Save Lives, Spread Awareness

A student is screened at a Nick of Time Foundation event

Nearly two decades ago, 16-year-old Nicholas Varrenti died of sudden cardiac arrest. In his memory, Varrenti’s family established the Nick of Time Foundation to help save the lives of other young people. They tackle that mission through several key initiatives, including youth heart screenings. Next week, Liberty High School will host its second Nick of Time screening event. 

“Many people don’t recognize cardiac arrest when a kid collapses,” said Darla Varrenti, Nick’s mom and the executive director of the foundation. “They stand by and watch, when what they should be doing is starting CPR, having someone call 911 and finding an AED.” 

Since the Nick of Time Foundation was created in 2006, the nonprofit organization has conducted heart screenings for 25,756 people ages 14-24 at 85 events across the region. The screenings help with early detection of undiagnosed heart abnormalities. 

Nick of Time helps increase awareness of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), improve emergency action planning for schools and communities and promote scientific research in related fields. In addition to echocardiogram (EKG) heart screenings, the foundation also works to teach teens and their families about “hands-only” CPR and how to use automated external defibrillators (AEDs). Recently, many more people across the nation have become familiar with SCA since NFL player Damar Hamlin collapsed during a Buffalo Bills game. He was able to receive immediate medical attention and is recovering.   

Liberty has been working to plan this year's Feb. 1 screening event since last spring, said Erin Armstrong, assistant principal. 

“We want to make sure our students have this vital information about their heart health so that they can participate fully in extracurricular activities that bring them joy,” Armstrong said. “We are proud to be able to host this event at LHS and we have extended invitations to students at all secondary schools in our district.”  

“We truly believe all students can benefit from going through this experience – they learn more about their own heart, though they also learn hands-only CPR and how to use an AED so that they can help if they see someone else experiencing a sudden cardiac arrest,” Armstrong continued.   

District staff including building administrators; staff with health room duties; some teachers in subjects such as such as physical education, Career and Technical Education and early childhood; some paraprofessionals, coaches and others are required to have current CPR/AED and First Aid certification. Other staff members such as paraprofessionals who supervise recess are highly recommended to have current certifications. 

The LHS Nick of Time event in 2018 screened 271 students and identified four students who needed medical follow-up. This year, they hope to screen 500 students between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Feb. 1 in the LHS gym. As of Wednesday afternoon, about 385 students were signed up; additional appointments are available via the Nick of Time website.

The Nick of Time Foundation shares that sudden cardiac arrest is the top cause of sudden death in young people who are exercising, active or “at-play.” It comes on quickly with no warning and causes a sudden collapse. The person experiencing sudden cardiac arrest will have no pulse, will lose consciousness and will stop breathing. Integrated screening programs that use an EKG offer the only reliable model to identify young people who are at risk for sudden cardiac arrest, organizers say. 

In general, a similar cardiac test would typically cost between $125 and $1,500, but the foundation is able to offer these screenings for free with a suggested donation of $25 each, thanks to donors and volunteers. Students and young adults must fill out a health history form before they can be screened. 

Each screening takes the patient through four stations in 30-45 minutes: a blood pressure check, an EKG, a lesson in CPR and AED use, and a doctor check-in station. 

“I think that a screening like this is especially beneficial to those students who don’t play any sports, because they don’t go in for physicals on a regular basis. It’s not just athletes that have to take care of their hearts. Even if you live a healthy lifestyle, there could be something going on that you don’t know about,” said Morten Orren, who teaches sports medicine and health at Liberty and is a certified athletic trainer. “I am beyond thrilled that we are hosting this event again. With the rates of sudden cardiac arrests in high school students (one per week) anything that can be done to bring that down is huge.” 

Orren said that he shared the event with all of his students this school year, and pointed out that there is no harm in getting screened but that there is potential for great harm if students have an undetected heart condition. 

About 120 volunteers and community partners are helping make this event possible, including volunteers with the Liberty High School Boosters. 

“We feel providing free heart screening for our teens is incredibly important,” said Melissa Fitzgerald, president of the LHS Booster Club. “Underlying heart conditions often don’t have symptoms and go unnoticed until it is too late. … If we can catch and save even one student, all of our time and effort was worth it.”  

The boosters are providing more than 20 volunteers who will help the doctors, nurses and firefighters at the event; and food and drinks for volunteers during the day.    

“We have an amazing community, and our Booster Club is happy to be a part of it,” Fitzgerald said. 

Anyone who is interested in having a student or young adult ages 14-24 screened at a Nick of Time event can find a list of upcoming events on their website or their Facebook page. Read more about the foundation and how a screening helped then-Liberty quarterback Sam Brown in a 2018 Seattle Times article. A video sharing what a typical screening is like is available on YouTube. To learn more about sudden cardiac arrest; or to learn how to help the Nick of Time Foundation in their mission, visit their website. Photos courtesy of Nick of Time Foundation; above, a student is screened at an event last fall. Below, a volunteer demonstrates how to use an AED to help someone experiencing sudden cardiac arrest.


A volunteer demonstrates how to use an AED to save someone experiencing sudden cardiac arrest.