Brett Douglas, fueled in part by the sudden death of his cousin, is taking a two-pronged approach to combating Sudden Cardiac Death by educating and screening students and athletes aged 12 to 22 in his home state of Ohio.
On a fall night in 2017, 14-year-old Liam Powers awoke to the sound of his heart pounding like a drum.
Unknown to Powers' family, Liam was suffering a heart abnormality that caused episodes of racing and pounding. Liam sat up on his bed for a while and, in a move that could have cost him his life, fell back to sleep to the sound of his heart beating wildly in his chest.
Brett Douglas, fueled by stories like Liam’s and the sudden death of his cousin, is taking a two-pronged approach to combating Sudden Cardiac Death by educating and screening students and athletes aged 12 to 22 in his home state of Ohio.
Douglas is the founder and CEO of mCORE (Mobile Cardiac Overview & Risk Evaluation). It offers Electrocardiogram (EKG) and Echocardiogram screening sessions at schools, hospitals and other convenient sites for $75 per person. Armed with state-of-the-art machines, three doctors and up to 10 certified technicians, the mobile unit has screened more than 15,000 youths since 2011 finding heart abnormalities in 5-7 percent of cases.
While the mobile unit holds between 20 and 30 screening sessions per month, the mCORE Foundation is constantly seeking to partner with other organizations, raise funding for free screenings and raise awareness in the community. For better or worse, Douglas said Sudden Cardiac Death has become much more noticeable in recent years.
“The visibility from when we started until now is rising exponentially,” Douglas said. “Unfortunately, it’s propelled by kids dying. That’s why we are teaming up academically to figure out why this is happening and raise awareness before people are affected.”
When Douglas was 12 years old his 15-year-old cousin passed away suddenly on the basketball court. The tragic event inspired Douglas to pursue a career in the cardiac arena. After graduating from Ohio State University, Douglas served various business and management roles in the cardiac realm at St. Jude Medical and in 2004 co-founded his first SCD screening company, Healthy Life Screening.
After Healthy Life Screening was bought out, Douglas partnered with cardiologist Kenneth Berkovitz to found mCORE in 2010. Even with his previous company-building experience, Douglas used a belt-and-suspenders approach in crafting mCORE.
“We started it very slow, taking baby steps on purpose because we’re not making Hershey bars here – we are dealing with kids’ hearts,” Douglas said. “We wanted to be methodical in every step of the process. It’s a long process, and it continues even now.”
Part of this methodical approach was carefully selecting an administrative team with the passion and skills to accomplish mCORE’s goals. Upon hearing about Douglas’ venture, Chad Ogden, who lost his friend Ronald “Coop” Cooper to sudden cardiac death in 2002, immediately offered his services.
“I heard Brett was working with young athletes, so I reached out to him through a friend of a friend,” said Ogden, a former fraternity brother of Douglas’. “It was something I was passionate about, and I told him I would leave my sixteen-year corporate career to join him. Sure enough, he called a few weeks later and said he was going for it. I was as qualified as anyone else in the field at that time.”
As Director of Partnership Development, Ogden combines his passion derived from losing Cooper and sales background to connect mCORE with other organizations and set up screening events. Ogden said the early days with mCORE were tough because fewer people were aware of SCD.
“When I first started, people would give me funny looks when I asked to screen their children’s hearts,” Ogden said. “It was a little difficult pushing that rock up the hill at first, but we’ve done five or six years-worth of education in Ohio, and it’s starting to gain traction.”
To further educate the public about sudden cardiac death and mCORE, Douglas brought 25-year marketing and operations veteran Lisa Tennenbaum on board in 2014. As Chief Operating Officer, Tennenbaum manages mCORE’s day to day operation that raises funds for the foundation to hold educational events and provide between 200 to 300 free screenings per year.
As a champion of SCD education, Tennenbaum constantly refers to stats provided by the American Heart Association. One in 100 kids has an undetected heart condition, one student athlete dies every three days because of SCD and less than 10 percent of SCD victims survive outside of a hospital setting.
“It sounds so dramatic, and we are not trying to scare people, but they need to know the facts,” Tennenbaum said.
According to the American Heart Association 1 in 100 kids has an undetected heart condition. Courtesy photo
mCORE has partnered with more than 200 Ohio schools to provide education and screening events, often using athletic programs to connect with the parents of student athletes. Lisa Powers, a mother of three sons attending high school in an Ohio suburb, had her oldest son screened at an mCORE event and was debating on whether it was necessary to have her two younger sons screened. When her youngest son, Liam, signed up for football she received an email about an mCORE screening event that likely saved her son’s life.
“When this screening came around, we had the conversation about the odds of actually finding anything and even talked about this being a money-making business,” Powers said. “But I knew a mom through church that lost her son to SCD, and it absolutely destroyed her. It was her only child and you could tell she never got over it.”
The Powers decided to have Liam screened and received a letter less than a week later that recommended they bring Liam to a cardiologist. After receiving the news on a Sunday afternoon, Powers explained to her son that the screening had found something. He was told he could attend football practice – but not participate – the following week.
The Powers brought Liam to Cleveland Clinic, a top-ranked cardiology institution, where they learned he had Wolf-Parkinson-White syndrome, which, according to the Mayo Clinic is, “an extra electrical pathway between your heart’s upper and lower chambers causing a rapid heartbeat.”
The doctors asked if Liam’s school had defibrillators available and advised the Powers to call an ambulance if a heart episode lasted more than 15 minutes. Lisa immediately thought back to the night Liam went back to sleep after his heart woke him up.
The rare condition had been present since birth, and Liam had lived 14 years without hardly mentioning it.
Within two weeks of the mCORE screening, Liam received an ablation (a catheter-based procedure) that corrected the abnormality permanently. After the procedure, Liam’s EKG tested normal, and he was allowed to return to football the following Monday.
“It was amazing,” Powers said. “He told us he felt much better and stronger. He lifts weights, runs track – he feels so much better.”
Since Liam’s episode, Powers had her middle son screened and has been vocal with other high school parents about attending SCD screening and awareness events.
I came close to losing my son to cancer, and a friend of mine lost his son in an accident. People always think these things happen to other people, but it’s not always that way.
- Doug Hare, President of Central Ohio Youth Baseball League
While mCORE’s vast school network continues to educate and screen students, the foundation has also partnered with youth organizations to reach kids who are involved in sports outside of school.
Doug Hare, President of the Central Ohio Youth Baseball League, partnered with mCORE four years ago after receiving information from Ogden, who coaches in the league. Hare, whose only experience with Sudden Cardiac Death is reading about those affected by it in news, jumped on board immediately.
“I came close to losing my son to cancer, and a friend of mine lost his son in an accident,” Hare said. “People always think these things happen to other people, but it’s not always that way.”
With more than 350 teams of young athletes aged 8 to 16, COYBL is home to more than 5,000 baseball players. The American Heart Association's 1-in-100 stat suggests that 50 of the athletes in Hare’s league have an undetected heart abnormality. After four years of hosting screening events at indoor batting cages and other locations convenient for parents, mCORE has yet to find an abnormality in COYBL athletes.
As Douglas continues to carefully enhance mCORE’s model and expand its reach by networking and partnering with other organizations, his cause received a major boost when Senate Bill 252, or Lindsay’s Law, went into effect in 2017. Lindsay’s Law, named after Lindsay Davis, a former Miss Ohio who suffers from Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, requires youth athletes, parents, coaches and officials to review and sign information the nature and warning signs of Sudden Cardiac Death.
As a result of the bill – and its immediate impact on Sudden Cardiac Death awareness – mCORE has been approached by several parents who have lost children to Sudden Cardiac Death and wish to help.
“Parents can speak and help educate, letting people know (Sudden Cardiac Death) is a real,” Ogden said. “Their stories are incredibly important because they help people take this seriously.”
mCORE has also been able to make partnerships outside of Ohio and, under the right circumstances, host screening events in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Texas. Douglas said mCORE’s mobile unit is geared up and ready to go nationwide as their partnership network expands.
“I think this is like concussions 10 years ago,” Tennenbaum said. “We are on the verge of having a breakthrough of awareness. The more kids we screen, the more kids we save. That’s why we have both the foundation and the screening company.”