JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Sudden Cardiac arrest claims the life of an American athlete every three days, which is a sobering statistic.
One Jonesboro family feels lucky to know that they may have cheated death, not once, but four times.
Their story begins with Matthew Jones.
At 17 years old, Matthew is the picture of health, but a hidden heart problem nearly sliced years off of his life.
"It was in football practice," Matthew said. "That's where I ran a sprint and my heart did the same kind of thing where it beats real fast."
Matthew had felt that racing heart off and on all his life.
As a child, growing up in a very sports-minded family, he was active.
He did go to a Little Rock hospital with symptoms once, but they dismissed it.
"I remember in the 5th grade, it was probably the worst," Matthew said. "I was completely, I could not see a thing. I just blacked out."
So Matthew learned to control it, or so he thought.
"You could actually see his heart beating through his shirt," said Karen Jones, Matthew's mother.
His heart never really slowed down after that football practice.
Left alone, Matthew could have gone into cardiac arrest, but this time he went to the hospital.
"I just gosh...like please...I just want it to go away," Matthew said. "It was killing me right then."
"It was like a scene from ER," Jones said. "That's how I describe it. It was all about Matthew and saving his life."
"There are times where he was actually going about 300 times a minute right there where he is actually in atrial fibrillation," Dr. Devi Nair, a Jonesboro cardiac electrophysiologist, said.
Dr. Nair saw a familiar pattern on Matthew's EKG: Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, or WPW.
It happens when someone is born with an extra connection in the heart, or a bypass.
"And when you have that extra connection that will let you go fast, a combination of atrial fibrillation which is a bad rhythm or a fast rhythm could potentially cause cardiac arrest," Dr. Nair said.
Wracked with pain, Matthews heart was racing, but he had to wait for surgery because he had just eaten dinner and there was a fear he might aspirate.
So Matthews's surgery had to wait until morning.
"It was like a nightmare," Jones said. "The worst nightmare."
At one point, Dr. Nair had to shock Matthew's heart back into rhythm.
He wasn't getting enough oxygen to the brain, his heart beating out-of-control.
"He said, 'I'm seeing black. I don't want to go away'," Dr. Nair said. "'I want to see my Momma again. Where is my Momma?'"
It was urgent. Matthew needed cardiac ablation surgery.
"So, what we did is we put electrical wires up through his heart," Dr. Nair said. "We made a tiny, tiny hole between this wall, went across to the left side, found where that extra connection was and cauterized it off."
"I'm very lucky," Matthew said. "I'm blessed."
So are his brothers and Dad. They were tested for WPW and had the same surgery to reduce their risk.
"I never knew anything that would affect me or my other two sons," said Mark, Matthew's father.
Pre-participation evaluations for Craighead County students will offer EKG's on Sunday at the ASU Convocation Center as part the Health and Fitness Expo.