When Long Beach Poly High School senior football player Frank Murphy died in December 2014 during a cardiac episode, the entire Poly community was shaken.
“The following day was a big mourning day,” said Long Beach Poly Activities Director Ngoc Nguyen. “I’ve never seen the campus that quiet. Some students missed class to have time. He was a really good kid.”
Ngoc said Murphy was a “popular student,” involved in football and the marching band, as well as the CIC magnet program. Which is why it came as a shock when he entered cardiac arrest due to a heart condition while hanging with his friends, dying that day.
“It’s possible that if he had gotten checked, [the cardiac episode] could have been prevented,” said Nguyen.
Enter the Saving Hearts Foundation (SHF), a nonprofit founded by a group of UCLA students, focused on providing free heart screenings and raising awareness of Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA), which is the number one killer of student athletes.
SHF will be teaming up with Long Beach Poly to provide free EKG screenings to students any youth in the community, aged 12 to 24, at the Poly gym from 10:00AM to 3:00PM on Saturday, February 6.
“Right now, the current routine check up involves recording family history and listening to the heart,” said Sameer Jafri, a junior at UCLA and co-founder of SHF. “Doctors are missing a slew of heart conditions that can be detected with an Electrocardiogram (EKG) test.”
Heart conditions that can, in fact kill what appear to be active and perfectly healthy young individuals.
Jafri, who grew up in San Diego and whose mother is a doctor, said he hadn’t realized SCA was even an issue when he first underwent an EKG test in high school. As a baseball player and lifelong athlete, his first EKG session put him in touch with an SCA advocacy nonprofit, making him aware that leaving heart conditions undetected was costing people’s lives. He was hooked.
In October 2014, Sophomore year at UCLA, he reached out to two of his classmates, Mehwish Khan and Aneeq Malik, who were also interested in saving lives. Thus began the SHF.
“I fell in love with the idea of helping kids,” said Jafri. “Sudden Cardiac Arrest is something people don’t know much about, and it’s time it should get attention. The fact that it’s the number one killer of student athletes is an alarming statistic.”
The organization has focused on providing free screenings to the community, using the resources provided by cardiologists in the region. Each free screening includes educating youth on CPR and AED techniques, in addition to the EKG procedure.
In the short amount of time since the organization’s incarnation, the group has teamed up with another nonprofit, provided free screenings at Luezinger High School in Lawndale and traveled abroad to Panama to provide screenings for over 600 people in underprivileged communities. In Panama, Jafri said they found at least 20 people who needed help for their heart condition, including a man who was “in the middle of a heart attack” when they were screening him.
SHF’s collaboration with Long Beach Poly is the second such collaboration between the organization and a high school, with a third lined up for April 30 at Bonita High School in La Verne, CA.
“The UCLA Saving Hearts Foundation first approached us in the spring,” said Nguyen. “But this event just came into fruition this year.”
The event will give the Long Beach community a chance to prevent deaths similar to that of Frank Murphy, and the Murphy family has played a role in getting the school on board.
However, the ties that some of SHF’s volunteers have to Long Beach (a few graduated from Long Beach Poly a few years ago), also led to the collaboration and location. And "because the doctors are volunteering, and the only time available is on the weekends," Nguyen said it was determined the best time to hold the screening would be on the weekends.
"I think this event is going to go really well," said Jafir. "What I hope is to get part of the Long Beach community to become more aware of the disease and to connect with someone losing their life from it. It causes people to come out and take notice of our cause and learn more about Sudden Cardiac Arrest."
Top left: Malik, Jafri and Kahn (in dark blue) stand for a photo with volunteers. Photos courtesy of Sameer Jafri.
Above, right: Dr. Gandy, of Long Beach Memorial and Miller Children's and Women's Hospital, teaches volunteers how to read an EKG.
Bottom left: Kahn and Jafri screen youth in Panama.
Long Beach Poly High School is located at 1600 Atlantic Avenue.