Westfield mother raising awareness about cardiac health issues in children, teens

Anna’s parents still do not know why their child’s heart stopped beating, but Susan Canning, a Westfield mom who lost her son after he went into cardiac arrest,
Published: Sep. 20, 2022 at 6:28 PM EDT
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WESTFIELD, Mass. (WGGB/WSHM) - A community is mourning the loss of an Amherst student who collapsed during a cross-county meet and later died. The student’s parents said that it was a cardiac arrest.

It was a scary tragedy for one Westfield mom, who lost her own son when he died after having a cardiac episode. Now, she spends her free time bringing awareness to these issues in children and young adults.

Anna Burns was a junior at Amherst-Pelham Regional High School. On Tuesday last week, Anna collapsed after experiencing a cardiac arrest during a cross-country meet, and later died after never regaining consciousness.

Anna’s parents still do not know why their child’s heart stopped beating, but Susan Canning, a Westfield mom who lost her son after he went into cardiac arrest, said that this story is more common than you think.

“Kevin passed away July 11, 2011, due to an unexpected drowning, but in fact, he had cardiac arrest due to an undiagnosed hypertrophic cardiomyopathy,” Canning told us.

She has spent years, since her son died, working to bring awareness to other parents about the issues of cardiac episodes in young people through Kev’s Foundation.

“We formed the foundation to bring awareness, to families, that they don’t have to suffer the tragedy that we’ve experienced,” she said.

In the past 10 years, she helped pass a state law that requires a defibrillator at every high school sponsored sporting event, and then another law that requires coaches to be trained on how to use one and be trained to do CPR.

“These coaches spend a lot of time with our kids and they are the first line of defense,” Canning said. “They need to know lifesaving skills.”

We reached out to the Ludlow school system and the Ludlow Fire Department to see if there was a defibrillator at the meet where Anna’s heart stopped, but we have not yet heard back.

Canning told Western Mass News that it is important that parents talk with their children about how they are feeling.

“To find out signs and symptoms that may not have been discussed prior,” Canning explained.

It could save their life.

Grief counselors are being offered at Anna’s schools in towns,.and transplant recipients have been found to receive Anna’s organs.