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Valentine's Day heartache after 17-year-old son's death turns into family's mission to save lives

Posted at 8:21 AM, Feb 13, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-13 20:49:16-05

Valentine's Day has taken on a new meaning for one local family. It is now filled with love and loss.

Their young son's life was cut short by a killer they never saw coming, but this mom and dad’s mission has become part of their son's legacy.

“It's a rollercoaster ride,” said Stephanie Kornet.

Sometimes it feels like life betrays us.

“There are good days, bad days," she continued. 

The loss of a child can do that.

"Or, good minute, bad minute," said Scott Kornet.

It forever changes a parent and the whole family.

“Alec had the most infectious smile,” said Stephanie. “He was always smiling." 

“He was always helping,” added Scott.

Scott and Stephanie Kornet are finding purpose in the pain.

"I wish I knew a year ago what I know now," she said. 

It happened Feb. 14, 2017. Their middle son, Alec, was at hockey practice. He started feeling lightheaded, left the ice and collapsed. Alec Kornet died of sudden cardiac arrest at the age of 17.

His parents say they never saw it coming.

The Kornet's have made it their mission to spread awareness. They started the4Alec Foundation.

"It's important to us to make sure these young adults are getting checked the correct way," she said.

They have partnered with MCORE, which stands for Mobile Cardiac Overview Risk Evaluation. The foundation raises money to pay for the preventative heart screenings. They recently screened some of Alec's high school teammates.

"You know, we're all about protecting this neighborhood and our kids because these kids are our kids too," said Scott.

"As a mom, I don't think I'd be able to sleep if I wasn't doing something to give back or build awareness or do something," said Stephanie. “So, no other family has to go through this."

A sign in the Kornet’s living room reads: A mother and a father are not defined by the number of children you can see, but by the love they hold in their hearts.

They said Alec is present in the work they're doing with the foundation.

 “I believe he's got a hand in it,” said Stephanie.

“He's watching over all the kids," said Scott.

Q&A about Sudden Cardiac Arrest with Dr. Aziz, pediatric cardiologist at Cleveland Clinic Children’s

What are the symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest in young people? 
ANSWER: Unfortunately, sudden death can be the initial presenting event.  In others, syncope (or passing out) is the classic symptom.  Young patients with syncope, particularly during exercise or exertion, should seek immediate medical treatment. 

What are the risk factors of sudden cardiac arrest in young people? 
ANSWER: Risk factors, or clues that suggest someone is at risk, are often found in the family history.  Immediate family members who experience early sudden or unexplained death should be a clue to prompt evaluation.  Other warning signs in the family history include: congenital deafness, unexplained car accidents, unexplained drowning or early onset cardiomyopathies (heart muscle disorders).

What are the causes of sudden cardiac arrest in young people? 
ANSWER: The most common causes of sudden cardiac arrest in the young include inheritable (genetic) disorders of the cardiac rhythm or heart muscle function as well as anomalies of the coronary arteries.  Examples include: long QT syndrome, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome and dilated cardiomyopathy.

Can it be prevented? 
ANSWER: Depending on the disease, treatment can greatly reduce the incidence of life-threatening events.  For example, in long QT syndrome, medical therapy alone is effective in most patients.  Other disorders require implantation of defibrillator devices that reset the heart rhythm should a life-threatening arrhythmia occur.  Post-event strategies include cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and application and proper use on an automated external defibrillator (AED).  These strategies are employed on-site, often times to patients that have yet to be diagnosed.

What is the best screening method? 
ANSWER: This topic is highly debated.  Current guidelines recommend screening through a history and physical examination.  If of course issues were to arise during this screening process, electrocardiograms (ECGs) and other cardiovascular tests can be employed.  Referral to an expert in those situations is recommended.

How many children and teens die of sudden cardiac arrest every year?  
ANSWER: Fortunately, sudden cardiac death in the young remains a rare, though incredibly consequential event.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1500 people under the age of 25 years of age die each year of sudden cardiac death.

What should parents know and do to prevent SCA? 
ANSWER: If your child has warning signs of sudden death (passing out, chest pain…) get them evaluated.  Family members that have experienced any of the warning signs of above should also trigger an evaluation.  Finally, engaging in CPR classes and getting BLS certified are excellent ways to be prepared should an event like this occur.  Survivors of these life-threatening events are often rescued by people in the community that are aware, educated and have access to an AED.