BIG HEART 5K Run and Walk to raise money for youth cardiac screenings

After his son Kristoffer died suddenly last year of cardiac arrest, Tormod Larsen of Geneva decided to do whatever he could to prevent other families from experiencing the same unexpected loss.

Larsen established the Kristoffer Larsen BIG HEART Memorial Foundation in March, dedicated to preventing sudden cardiac death in young people.

“I wanted to find meaning in tragedy and a path forward,” Tormod Larsen said.

The foundation's goal is to offer a free cardiac screening program for Geneva High School students to detect heart conditions.

Tormod Larsen said the screening program will cost more than $20,000. To raise money for it, the foundation is hosting its first BIG HEART 5K Run and Walk on Aug. 19 at LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve in St. Charles.

When Kristoffer Larsen died in May 2016, he was asleep in bed while visiting relatives in Norway. He was on summer break from Northern Illinois University, where he was pursuing a degree in public relations and marketing.

Neither he nor his parents were aware he had a heart condition. As far as they knew, “he was a healthy 22-year-old,” Tormod Larsen said.

In high school, Kristoffer Larsen was a member of Geneva's track and cross country teams, and later was a competitive runner at Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove.

Tormod Larsen said the standard sports physicals for high school students like those his son received did not include an electrocardiogram, which can detect many heart abnormalities.

Obtaining an ECG from a physician or lab is expensive, which is why the BIG HEART foundation wants to offer them at no cost, in collaboration with the Young Hearts for Life organization. The screening takes just a few minutes.

“It's a small thing to do for peace of mind,” Tormod Larsen said.

Silent, undetected heart disorders may account for many sudden cardiac arrests in younger, seemingly healthy individuals, according to the American Council on Science and Health.

The Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation reported that sudden cardiac arrest affects about 16 people younger than 18 every day, often leading to sudden cardiac death among young people, particularly athletes participating in rigorous sports.

However, as in Kristoffer Larsen's case, sudden cardiac death can occur when exercise is not a factor.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy are the most common causes of heart-related sudden death in people younger than age 30, according to an article published by the National Institutes of Health.

Either HCM or ARVC – heart muscle conditions that can be inherited – led to Kristoffer Larsen's death, his dad said.

The conditions often go undetected without screenings such as an ECG.

“It seems like an obvious thing we should be doing,” Tormod Larsen said.

The first screening program will take place in February 2018 at Geneva High School. The BIG HEART foundation plans to hold the 5K annually to fund future cardiac screenings, which Tormod Larsen hopes the group can offer every other year at the school.

If you go

What: BIG HEART 5K Run and Walk – the event will raise money for the Kristoffer Larsen BIG HEART Memorial Foundation, which is looking to prevent sudden cardiac death in youth.

When: 9 a.m. Aug. 19

Where: The three-mile cross country course at LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve 37W584 Dean St., St. Charles

Cost: $25 per participant or $20 per runner for teams of 10 or more; register by Aug. 10 by calling 630-896-7800; late registrations may be accepted at a higher rate

Other: Each participant will receive a T-shirt with sponsor names; participants should arrive about an hour before the race to pick up their shirt; corporate sponsors are welcome.