WEST ORANGE, NJ — The health professionals at RWJBarnabas Health said that saving even one life by providing free cardiac and concussion screenings at the upcoming Matthew J. Morahan III (MJM) Health Assessment Center event on Saturday would mean they are doing their job.

The MJM center is hosting a free cardiac and concussion baseline screenings to young athletes on Saturday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the South Mountain Recreation Complex, Codey Arena in West Orange.

Available to the first 200 young athletes who sign up, the cardiac screening is open to 6-to-18 year olds. The concussion baseline screening, available to the first 120 who sign up, is for young athletes ages 5 and older.

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“Doing this is very important, especially for your child,” said Dr. John Z Shumko. “Even baseline testing is very beneficial. Saving even one child or student athlete is worth it and that’s our goal.”

Dr. Shumko is the chairman of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation for Saint Barnabas Medical Center as well as the Medical Director for the Sports and Physical Medicine Institute and the Comprehensive Rehabilitation Center.

He said that by hosting screenings like this in the past, the center has found abnormalities in young athletes that they were not aware of and were able to point them in the right direction. According to Shumko, identifying these abnormalities was likely lifesaving in many cases.

“If we could help prevent concussions or identify them correctly and educate the students, coaches, athletic directors and parents, we’ve done our job,” said Shumko. “If we identify one single athlete with a cardiac abnormality and help decrease that risk that they would’ve sustained a worse cardiac condition or sudden death, we’ve done our job. To me, it’s a no brainer to come and get these screenings done so your child will play in a safer environment.”

Nearly 90 percent of sudden cardiac deaths in young athletes occur during or after athletic activities, and hidden heart conditions are often the cause, according to RWJBarnabas Health. Cardiac screenings help to identify players who may require further testing or intervention.

Having a concussion baseline study (ImPACT) for a young athlete can also help identify future issues. If an athlete is believed to have suffered a head injury, this screening test may be used to evaluate the severity of the head injury and determine when it is safe to return to play.

The screening program furthers RWJBarnabas Health's commitment to the health and well being of children and young adults in the area.

Shumko said the screenings are intended to help the student athletes of all different ages identify any pre-existing conditions as well as to identify how to treat the individual should he or she endure an injury. Should any pre-existing conditions be identified, Shumko said the professionals are also able to provide rehabilitation to get them back on the field.  

“We know all to well that athletes have had sudden cardiac arrests while doing athletics but with no previous history or symptoms, so this can happen,” he said. “What the screening does is help identify those athletes that are at risk.”

Looking at the prevalence of concussions today, Shumko also said RWJBarnabas is able to identify and treat concussions better than ever before because the professionals understand them better.

“So many more athletes are playing sports and contact sports where head injuries occur—and they could be mild or more severe,” said Shumko. “Many times the symptoms may be mild or you might not even realize that you have a concussion. So if there is any question of it, having a baseline and then having repeat testing after the injury is very important.”

Shumko urged anyone who has the opportunity this weekend to attend the event and get these screenings done for their children. Should anyone not be available to attend this event, Shumko said the center is open on a daily basis to perform these tests.

Screenings are free of charge and a parent or guardian is asked to be present. Registration is required. To register and schedule an appointment time, parents/guardians should contact Teamlink@rwjbh.org.

The MJM Health Assessment Center for Athletes provides education, evaluation and assessment of sports injury and sports-related cardiac and concussion screenings.

More than 20,000 screenings have been performed since the center’s inception.

For more information about the MJM Health Assessment Center for Athletes, visit www.barnabashealth.org/morahan or call 973-322-7913.