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Effort grows to check young hearts for early signs of cardiac arrest

A student gets a free heart screening in Thurston County, Wash. Volunteers hope to screen 600 more young people in Seattle this Wednesday, June 1st.
Nick of Time Foundation
A student gets a free heart screening in Thurston County, Wash. Volunteers hope to screen 600 more young people in Seattle this Wednesday, June 1st.

A local mom whose teenage son died from sudden cardiac arrest is pushing to make sure the tragedy doesn’t happen to other families. She's part of an effort to check young people across the state for undetected heart conditions. Its largest screening to date is this Wednesday, June 1st, at Garfield High School in Seattle. 

Darla Varrenti thought she was doing everything a parent could to monitor her son Nick’s health. She took him in for regular check ups and made sure he passed his physicals before he played sports.

She points to a photo of him taken a week before he died to show just how strong he looked in his blue and gold football uniform:

“You’d never know looking at him that there was a problem," she says. "And that is the problem with young people suffering with these undiagnosed heart problems. The first sign that there’s something the matter with their heart is when they suffer the sudden cardiac arrest.”

Unless they get an electrocardiogram (EKG) or echocardiogram (ECHO). They can detect heart problems early, but they're expensive tests.  So Varrenti and other family members created the Nick of Time foundation to offer free screenings at schools, including the following upcoming locations:

  • August 24, 2011- Chief Sealth HS (Seattle School District)
  • October 5, 2011- Redmond HS (Lake Washington School District)
  • November 2, 2011- Stanwood HS (Stanwood-Camano Island)
  • January 11, 2012- Bothell HS (Northshore School District)
  • February 1, 2012- Franklin HS (Seattle Public School District)
  • March 7, 2012- Renton School District (school TBD)
  • May 2, 2012- Roosevelt HS (Seattle Public School District)
  • June 6, 2012- Stadium HS (Tacoma School District)

It also plans to put defibrillators in the schools, starting with Seattle next fall.
This year, volunteers have screened more than 2,000 young people. Varrenti says a few dozen of them had serious heart problems. Three have since had open heart surgery.

While that sounds scary, she says it’s better to know about problems early than find out after it’s too late.

Registration Information:

To pre-register, send an email to: You can also download and complete the medical questionnaire in advance.

Additional slots may be available on a walk-in basis. Most screenings are for young people between the ages of 14 to 24-years-old.

Charla joined us in January, 2010 and is excited to be back in Seattle after several years in Washington, DC, where she was a director and producer for NPR. Charla has reported from three continents and several outlets including Marketplace, San Francisco Chronicle and NPR. She has a master of journalism from University of California, Berkeley and a bachelor's degree in architecture from University of Washington.