Students' campaign could impact policy

Limerick Leader

Limerick West Edition

Saturday 11 May 2013 

Gerard Fitzgibbon

A campaign for mass cardiac screening of young people, which is being led by a group of students from Newcastle West, could be incorporated into Government health policy in the near future, a local TD believes.

Fine Gael TD Patrick O'Donovan said that elements of a campaign by transition year students at Desmond College, Newcastle West for greater screening for sudden adult death syndrome could be feasibly rolled out with minimal cost.

Last month, students from the Gortboy school travelled to Leinster House to meet with Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the Chairman of the Oireachtas Health Committee, Jerry Buttimer TD.

Over the past number of months the students have been raising awareness through online initiatives and local screening drives.  The issue at the centre of their cause has clear resonance with Desmond College - the sister of current transition year student Kieran Herlihy, Niamh, died suddenly at the age of 20 in 2011, while later that year 15-year old Desmond College student Darra O'Donovan also died suddenly.

Mr. O'Donovan said that data from heel prick tests, which could help identify if a child is in an 'at risk' health category, is one element of the campaign which could gain traction in Government policy.

"There's information available through the heel prick test.  I've spoken to the Minister for Health about that side of it.  Obviously there's resarch that needs to be done to see if that can be used for identifying (sudden adult death syndrome), but it's positive".

The students travelled to Dublin last month as part of the ongoing Young Social Innovators project, and received another significant boost a week later when they received a letter from the Taoiseach congratulating them on their efforts to date.

As well as a Facebook group which has attracted the support of over 25,000 people the students held a two day screening event at the school in February which saw students and staff receive screening tests for conditions which have been lihnked to sudden adult death.

Mr. O'Donovan said that the school's personal connection to the campaign is "very difficult" for them, and praised their efforts in keeping the need for screening on the agenda.

"What I would be hoping to do is get the health committee to take it on as an issue", he said.