Local couple's nonprofit funds heart screenings to save others' children

Posted: March 11, 2011

Darren and Phyllis Sudman were thrilled when their baby, Simon, was born on Oct. 21, 2004. The child seemed healthy, but 96 days later, he died of an undetected heart arrhythmia passed down by his mother.

"I put him down for a nap, and he simply didn't wake up," said Phyllis Sudman, 39, of Plymouth Meeting. "If I had been screened as a child and knew I had it, his death certainly could have been prevented."

Vowing to spare other families the same heartache, the two started Simon's Fund in 2005. On Sunday, from noon to 3:30 p.m., the nonprofit will hold "Simon's Day," a comedy show for children, at the Ambler Theater.

The goal is to raise $100,000 for cardiac screenings of area schoolchildren. Since its inception, the nonprofit has raised $750,000 and held heart screenings for 2,100 youngsters in five suburban school districts, plus two private schools.

The event comes amid a recent spike in reports of teenage athletes who have died while playing sports due to undetected heart problems. On March 4, a Michigan student, Wes Leonard, 16, collapsed on the court after scoring his team's winning basket; he died of cardiac arrest in a Fennville, Mich., hospital two hours later.

The same week, across the country, four other student athletes died. Typically, said Darren Sudman, 40, they die from undetected hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a thickening of the heart muscle that makes it hard for the organ to pump blood.

That condition claimed Akhir Frazier, a 16-year-old Prep Charter High School student and basketball star, on Aug. 21, 2010.

It's important to spot such athletes before crises occur, the Sudmans said. The athletes can then seek medical treatment. The nonprofit's screenings are alert to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, but no heart ailment is overlooked, they said.

The next heart screening is planned for sometime this year in the Radnor Township School District, Darren Sudman said. Another screening, geared to student athletes, is set for June 4 in Philadelphia, in partnership with the city-based Athlete Health Organization, he said.

For details, families can link to http://simonsfund.org/ or call 484-222-0623.

The Sudmans' screenings are free to families who attend. The cost is underwritten by Simon's Fund; pediatric cardiologists and other experts from Children's Hospital work for nominal fees, Phyllis Sudman said.

Since 2005, the screenings have found 20 undetected heart conditions.

"Those conditions can all lead to sudden death in children," Darren Sudman said.

The effort certainly changed the lives of the Fair family from Lafayette Hill. The Sudmans held a screening at Colonial Elementary School in October 2007.

Lori Fair took her daughter, Melissa, then 10. When doctors reviewed the girl's electrocardiogram and other tests, they found a hole in her heart, plus a pulmonary vein that fed the wrong side of the organ, Fair said.

The girl had never shown any symptoms, her mother said. Had the defect gone unnoticed, Fair believes, the child might have died. Now she's back to normal after surgery to repair her heart.

"We are forever grateful to them for what they're doing," Lori Fair said. "What they did for us can't be overstated."

Contact staff writer Bonnie L. Cook at 610-313-8232 or bcook@phillynews.com.


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