Source: Houston Chronicle
He pushed for state law on heart screenings after son died, will speak at Super Bowl week
The hit on Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin, sending him into cardiac arrest on the field, shocked millions who watched that game. For Scott Stephens of Crosby, it brought tears to his eyes and triggered yet another memory of his son’s death.
Trainers immediately began assistance on Hamlin, including nine minutes of cardiopulmonary resuscitation procedures, ultimately saving his life
“It was horrible to watch,” Stephens said days after the Jan. 2 game, which would serve as another reminder of his son Cody’s death in May 2012 from sudden cardiac arrest. Cody, a Crosby High School senior who was planning to attend Tarleton State University on a football scholarship that fall, died at his dad’s home, in his dad’s chair. The family had no knowledge of a previous heart condition, they said.
His death affected the Crosby-Huffman community, spotlighting a need to update requirements for physicals administered to student athletes. Texas lawmakers later enacted legislation related to heart safety during athletic events, spurred by Stephens’ advocacy. Next month, Stevens will continue that advocacy during Super Bowl week.
He will join former NFL player and longtime friend Randy Grimes as they go from table to table at NFL Radio Row to each share their own stories. Grimes, a 10-year veteran of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and founder of Pro Athletes in Recovery, has finished his book “Off Center,” a memoir about his battle and recovery from painkillers.
“Scott being one of my best friends and everything that he’s been through, what he’s doing now is such a timely topic, obviously, after what happened to Damar,” Grimes said.
Nationwide statistics on sudden cardiac arrest deaths are difficult to determine, said Martha Lopez-Anderson, outgoing executive director for Parent Heart Watch, a national advocacy group for parents of athletes lost to sudden cardiac arrest.
“Currently in our country, there is no national mandatory registry,” said Lopez-Anderson. “That’s kind of a handicap that we have so we track stories of death and survival in children, teens, and young adults up to college age.”
The group depends on the Cardiac Arrest Registry to Enhance Survival at Emory University in Atlanta. Registration is voluntary and 30 states participate. According to the most recent data collected, in 2020, the organization reported 23,000 deaths that year, the highest number reported.
Stephens, who attended the national convention of Parent Heart Watch in Houston this weekend, shares those kinds of statistics when he speaks to civic groups and during radio and television interviews when he talks about Cody, about heart safety and what he thinks school officials and families should do to help prevent another tragedy.
His efforts have led to the passage of HB 76, Cody’s Law, in the Texas Legislature in 2019. The law gives parents the option to have their children undergo an echocardiogram as part of their physicals. The heart screening can detect underlying issues in 75 percent of cases, according to Dr. Kimberly Harmon, section head of the sports medicine department and professor at the University of Washington.
The number 76, secured by State Representative Dan Huberty for the bill, was the jersey number worn by the towering 18-year-old who was 6-foot-9 and weighed in at 289 pounds.
Following the passage of Cody’s Law, Stephens has traveled both to Pennsylvania and Indiana to testify on behalf of similar bills before their legislatures. The Pennsylvania bill passed while the Indiana bill fell short. Florida also has a similar bill that fell short, but Stephens feels confident more states will see the benefits and adopt the law.
Stephens and his wife Melody also founded the Cody Stephens Foundation, through which they were able to screen thousands of students per year. The organization has also been able to install SaveStations with automated external defibrillators at Crosby ISD’s Cougar football stadium, the Crosby baseball stadium and his home church. The group plans to add another to the Crosby Rodeo and Fairgrounds this May before the rodeo.
Stephens has a month before Super Bowl week to refine his message and prepare to share it in as powerful a way as he can.
“It might seem monotonous because you tell the same story basically to every outlet whether they’re from Cincinnati, Orlando, New York, ESPN, or whoever,” he said, “but it’s a great way to get your message out.”
One message is certain, though. Stephens preaches three steps if someone goes down with an apparent heart attack.
“Every second is important. If they’re not administered CPR within six minutes, they’re not going to make it. The steps are start CPR, have someone call 911, find an AED and administer shock if necessary,” he quoted from the American Heart Association.
Grimes and Stephens became good friends when they coached baseball in North Shore Little League when the facility was on Freeport Street in Cloverleaf. They have maintained that friendship over the last two decades.
“We’ll start on Tuesday morning and probably finish up on Thursday afternoon,” Grimes said about the process of interviews. “Every big station from around the country is there set up in a big convention room and we just go from table to table.”
Grimes is the founder of Pro Athletes In Recovery, a 501(C)(3) charity that assists pro athletes in crisis and addiction. With the release of his own book last year, he will spend his interview time on the book and the charity.
Since his son’s death 11 years ago, Stephens has reflected on a choice his family made and the toll it would take on their lives.
When he and his wife moved in 1996 from North Shore, they looked at homes in The Commons in Huffman and the grassy fields of Crosby. They chose Crosby as a better fit.
“Huffman was doing heart screenings, and Crosby elected not to. I live with that decision every day. If we had moved to Huffman, my son might still be alive today,” he said. Crosby has been screening since the death of Cody.
“Which side of the district line you live on shouldn’t decide whether your kid lives or dies.”