R.J. Janeczek was a 16-year-old sophomore, a wide receiver on Wall Township High School’s varsity football team.
And, like most student athletes, he was the picture of health.
But when he underwent a routine examination by the Matthew J. Morahan III Health Assessment Center for Athletes, a Barnabas Health screening program, a not-so-obvious heart condition was found.
Janeczek, like his oldest brother, was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, a condition characterized by abnormal heart pathways that can cause rapid and irregular heartbeats. It was successfully treated, but might have led to serious complications had it not been discovered.
“No one expects a young athlete to have a serious underlying cardiac condition,” said Lynn Janeczek, his mother. “That’s why it’s so important for them to be screened.”
Besides trying to promote that exact message, Barnabas Health, at all seven of its facilities throughout New Jersey, has been offering free and low-cost cardiac screenings and baseline concussion testing for youth athletes. It’s another example of how major health care organizations give back to their communities.
Diane Toto, director of the Matthew J. Morahan III Health Assessment Center for Athletes program, boasted that it has grown tremendously since its 2010 impetus.
“We have now done more than 14,000 cardiac and concussion screenings for youth,” she said. “So it has really exploded.”
Each of the Morahan Center’s satellite facilities incorporates emergency room protocol for concussion evaluation, follow-up testing and post-concussion care under a team of specialists.
Two free screenings are open to more than 200 children annually at each site. Toto explains that it’s not particularly meant to target low-income families.
“But if you look at our demographic for each hospital, our goal is to continue servicing those communities that we serve through our health care,” she said.
So the aim is to provide outreach to the communities around Barnabas facilities, Toto added, whether it be Newark Beth-Israel Medical Center or Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston.
But the reach is even further than Barnabas Health’s seven medical centers, as the program recently introduced a mobile unit that travels throughout the state to conduct screenings.
Getting the word out is another aspect of the program. Toto said while 14,000 youth have been screened, more than 7,000 have been educated about health problems associated with youth sports.
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Barnabas Health has named Dr. Ernani Sadural its director of global health to coordinate the system’s national and international humanitarian outreach and to help to assess future initiatives.
Barnabas Health doctors, nurses, employee teams and individuals have traveled to countries throughout the world and many areas in the United States on supportive missions to aid after disasters as well as to provide medical care to underserved areas.
Sadural, an obstetrician and gynecologist, is a member of the medical staff at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston and Clara Maass Medical Center in Belleville and practices at Regional Women’s Health Group in West Orange and Kearny.
He is co-founder and chief medical officer of the Life is Great Global Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing medical and nonmedical volunteers to underserved populations and empowering local residents to create sustainable change. – Beth Fitzgerald