With their brains still not fully developed, kids and teenagers are more susceptible than adults to concussions from sports. And when a child becomes the next victim of a sudden cardiac death — nearly 90 percent of which occur during or after athletic activities — hidden heart conditions are often the cause.

So a proper health screening, well before an emergency occurs, can do wonders in keeping a child alive.

More than 200 young athletes, and their parents or guardians, took the trip to a recreation complex in West Orange on a recent Saturday to receive free cardiac and baseline concussion screenings, courtesy of the Matthew J. Morahan III Health Assessment Center for Athletes at RWJBarnabas Health.

The program has conducted more than 30,000 screenings since 2010 for parents looking to get a jump on the 2018 scholastic sports season, or those concerned about the cost of such screenings elsewhere. Another screening session is scheduled for 8 a.m. to noon at the RWJBarnabas Health Arena in Toms River on September 29.

Typically during a screening session of 100-200 kids, the program would spot a maximum of two children with a potential heart issue that needs further investigation.

"If you're preventing one death among these young people, it's worth every effort that we're making," said Dr. John Shumko, medical director of the MJM Center's concussion program.

Until recently, concussion screenings were only available for young athletes over the age of 9. A newer screening procedure approved by the FDA — an iPad-based computerized test — is available for children aged 5 and older.

"It's good to have a baseline because when we know what their normal volumes are ... you can always match it up after a particular injury," Shumko said.

Recent recommendations from the CDC advised pediatricians to avoid imaging methods, such as CT scans, to diagnose mild traumatic brain injuries in children.

There's no true value in doing a CT scan or MRI in hopes of identifying a concussion, Shunko said.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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