Heart Screens for Teens

When Michigan high school basketball star Wes Leonard collapsed and died soon after sinking the game-winning shot, Mary Beth Schewitz of Lake Bluff could imagine the emotions.

She could imagine that family’s exhilaration and pride at watching their son — and the profound shock and sadness that would follow.

“We had those same feelings when Max died,” Schewitz says of her son, who died suddenly in 2005 from an undetected heart abnormality. “We later learned, as possibly the Leonard family will also learn, that a simple medical test — an EKG test — might have detected his heart condition and he could have sought life-saving treatment.”

Schewitz started Screens for Teens, a program that offers free EKG screenings to area high schools. Today, over 15,000 students have been tested for markers leading to Sudden Cardiac Death.

“Why didn’t Max get an EKG?” Schewitz says. “It’s painless, non-invasive and less expensive than a teeth cleaning. Why isn’t EKG testing a standard of care in the United States, the way it is in Europe and other countries?”

While the American Heart Association recognizes the preventive role of EKG testing, it states that mass screening is expensive and not feasible here.

“Thousands of young adults die needlessly every year because of this stance.  I’m hopeful the AHA will reverse its position before many more lives are lost,” Schewitz says.

Of the thousands tested through Screens for Teens, some 204 have had results requiring further evaluation. Siblings Konrad and Franchesca Mueller, 17 and 16, of Libertyville, are two of them.

They reluctantly attended their screening only to learn they each possessed a rare, undiagnosed heart condition.

“In our home, she’s like an angel,” Mueller says of Schewitz. “She saved our lives.”

Inspired by Schewitz’ work, the Muellers plan to pursue careers in medicine, perhaps in pediatrics or cardiology.

Schewitz was recently selected as one of six women nationally chosen to receive Traditional Home Magazine’s coveted Classic Woman Award, given to a woman who whose outstanding volunteer effort makes their community a better place to live.

Schewitz’s hopes for the future? More successes like the Muellers.

Donate to The Max Schewitz Foundation at maxandthewildthings.com.