Parents' grief leads to heart-test effort


Six-man pro
Note: They already have a full-house of 350 student athletes signed up for this tomorrow in San Antonio ... but this could be of interest in the future ... ... 892647.php

Parents' grief leads to heart-test effort
Couple whose athlete son died seek to get teenagers tested.

By Don Finley
[email protected]
Updated 01:22 a.m., Friday, August 12, 2011
San Antonio Express News

From the implacable grief of losing their teenage son to a faulty heart that never gave the slightest warning, Bart and Doré Koontz became determined to save other families from similar tragedy.

The couple have launched a new charitable organization, AugustHeart, named for their son, to provide sophisticated heart screenings for local high school athletes ages 14-18 throughout the year, at no cost.

Its first screening event is Saturday at the Pearl Brewery, and it's already filled to capacity with 350 students registered, but families can sign up online for future screenings at

“You shoot for the moon,” said Bart Koontz, president of Koontz McCombs, a San Antonio development company. “Can we test every kid in Bexar County? Every freshman who comes in, every year — regardless of what sport, what gender — we should test them for this condition. That was our goal.”

August Koontz was an 18-year-old senior at Central Catholic High School — by all appearances healthy and athletic, playing a number of sports.

In October 2008, he was between sports, only working out with a trainer, when his mother found his body in bed when she went to wake him late on a Sunday morning.

Doctors said he died of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a thickening of the heart muscle. The disorder, which is inherited, is a leading cause of sudden cardiac death in young athletes.

But not all deaths occur on the playing field.

“No one wants to be in this club,” his father said. “The losing-a-kid club is the worst thing. I had no idea it would be as bad as it has been for me. Because it's far-reaching. It never goes away.”

As the months turned to years, his wife lessened her grief by immersing herself in her other two children's lives.
Bart Koontz couldn't find a similar path, until it occurred to him that maybe he could spare other families the same terrible experience.

“With husbands and wives, you grieve differently,” Doré Koontz said. “For me, it was kind of living for my other two children.

But Bart was having a really hard time coping. And I couldn't help him. So this I think has really pulled him out of deep, deep depression, and given him a purpose and sense of something good from his death.”

First Bart Koontz called the local chapter of the American Heart Association, which referred him to the Championship Hearts Foundation of Austin, a nonprofit group that has screened some 14,000 young athletes since 1999.

A few years ago, with a grant from the Texas Department of State Health Services, the group conducted a study involving 2,500 young athletes to see whether widespread screening might be practical and cost-effective in saving lives.

The cost-vs.-benefit question is why such screenings aren't mandatory in the United States, as they are in parts of Europe. But the Texas study found that with volunteer support from doctors and hospitals, an electrocardiogram and ultrasound test could be given for about $25 per student.

It also found a serious heart problem in one of every 180 students tested, said Dr. George Rodgers, a cardiologist and president of Championship Hearts, who also serves on the board of AugustHeart.

“Any time a young person dies, it's earth-shattering — and especially when it could have been prevented,” Rodgers said. “These kids, if certain precautions were taken, could have lived a normal life.”

Bart Koontz declined to say exactly how much money the family has contributed to the effort, only that “tens of thousands of dollars” have so far been offered. A fundraiser is scheduled for tonight to help defray future costs.

He also has managed to bring a number of organizations on board to assist with the screenings at little or no cost, including the Baptist Health System, Methodist Heart Services, the University Health System and UT Medicine, the physician practice group of the University of Texas Health Science Center.

Both husband and wife say the effort has helped ease the pain of their loss.

“Just to save anyone from having to go through this is worth anything,” Doré Koontz said.
Thanks for sharing this. What a great example these parents are. Their ability to create a program such as this out of grief is very uplifting.