2012 death of Crosby football player leads to ECG testing for athletes
The legacy of Cody Stephens is alive and well.
Stephens, who died in his sleep in 2012 of Sudden Cardiac Arrest, was only weeks away from graduating from Crosby High School.
Now, thanks to the efforts of his parents Scott and Melody, there is hope that more potential graduates reach the podium instead of being felled by the deadly affliction.
That’s because on June 14 Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 76 or “Cody’s Law” into reality.
The law, which goes into effect on Sept. 1 when potential athletes get their physicals, will provide every student in Texas to have the option of having an electrocardiogram or ECG heart screening as part of his or her athletic physical exam.
“We gave it everything we got for seven years, with no regrets,” Scott Stephens said. “We couldn’t have done anything else; we couldn’t have done anything better. I get the news on Friday before Father’s Day that he signed the bill. We are the first state to now have this law.”
The law requires schools to provide families information on ECG testing which they can choose to have their child receive.
Stephens said that currently 30 percent of state school districts offer ECG testing.
Goose Creek CISD has offered ECG testing for six years while Crosby ISD has made it mandatory.
“The law says parents can opt out, which they have been doing for years,” Goose Creek athletic director Dr. Bernard Mulvaney said.
Barbers Hill ISD has not offered ECG testing.
“It is my hope that each district offers it to everyone who opts in,” Stephens said. “The (University Interscholastic League) is still formulating the rules. I personally think it will be recommended and not required by district.
“My job going forth is to make sure anyone who opts in has the ability to get one with reasonable effort.”
According to the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation, the affliction is a leading cause of death in the U.S., affecting more than 356,000 adults outside of hospitals each year, while more than 7,000 youth under the age of 18 experience SCA in the same time frame. Most young victims are male (90 percent) and one competitive athlete dies every three days due to SCA. Over 50 percent of these young males are black, according to Boston Scientific.
The screening lasts about 10 minutes and additional costs for a family may vary. The law is also opt in for each family.
“The parents are going to get the information on Sudden Cardiac Arrest, what an ECG can or can’t do and they will have the choice,” Scott Stephens said. “Then the parents can make an informed decision.
“You don’t think I would have spent $20 to protect his heart if I had known I could do it? That’s what this bill is about: To inform the parents that his can happen to you. It’s rare, but it’s the No. 1 killer of our student athletes.”
Stephens said the costs could range $10 to $20 more than the the original expense of a physical or higher depending on where the test is administered and who through.
“It will probably be given on a separate day from the current physical due to logistics,” Stephens said. “It’s going to be up to the parents who opt in to find a place to get it. I don’t know if the schools will have the burden.”
For Scott Stephens, the seven-year battle was an upward climb before the state senate passed the bill, 20-11, after previous rejections.
Rep. Dan Huberty of District 127 from Kingwood pushed the bill through the House and Sen. Carol Alvarado of District 6 in Houston closed the deal in the Senate.
“I became good friends with Scott and saw the work he was doing across the state for these kids,” Huberty said. “Knowing that he identified hundreds of kids that had problems over the years (through the Cody Stephens Foundation) I just felt it was important to do this to put in the front of parents’ minds.
“This is one of those things you keep working on in your legislative career where people think it’s easy to pass bills and it’s not. Carol Alvarado did a great job passing it through the senate as well. For us to be able to work together - she’s a democrat and I am a republican – it’s a bipartisan issue. We have to take these things seriously.”
Huberty’s efforts created a 145-0 vote in the House after also passing there in 2015 and 2017.
“Man, did he ever carry it,” Stephens said of the March 25 vote.
Wayne Smith, who was a state house representative from 2003-2015 out of District 128, carried the bill to the House in 2015 and got it to pass by a 90-50 vote.
“Dan and I had a lot of passion and we worked on it together,” Smith said. “If we can save a kid’s life, we certainly ought to do it. The fact that a young man died and had not had the exam and had not any problems … The exam would have saved his life.”
The Stephens family was pleased that they even got out of the House in 2015, but after looking at the numbers, Scott knew the reality of how tough this fight would be.
“I looked at our lobbyist and I said, ‘boy, we have our work cut out for us,’” he said.
Cody Stephens was ready for the next step in life as a scholarship football player at Tarleton State University when everything changed.
“He was excited, ready to go and conquer the world,” Scott Stephens said.
Cody still did as the bill passed seven years and two weeks following his death.
Now Cody’s passing will live forever.
“He loved people and I love what we accomplished, but I want my son back and that’s not going to happen,” Scott Stephens said. “Cody was a great kid and lived an honorable life and he would have made a difference in the world if he had lived.
“I have no doubt about that.”
The Cody Stephens Go Big or Go Home Memorial Foundation, which was formed to partner with schools to implement a program of ECG testing and provide information to the public, can be visited at www.CodyStephensFoundation.org.