ORLANDO, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — There are about eight million high school students participating in organized sports in the United States. Most student athletes are required to have a sport’s physical to show they are healthy enough to play. But a critical screening that is not included in the physical can be the difference between life and death for some athletes with serious undetected health issues.
For 15-year-old Rafe Maccarone, soccer is everything. Nothing slowed down this leading scorer, but one day at soccer practice “He started to lag at the back of the pack and that was unusual for sure for Rafe,” detailed his teammate, Evan Ernst.
He collapsed and went into sudden cardiac arrest. With all efforts, he was unable to be revived.
“It made absolutely no sense to a bunch of teenagers, and it still doesn’t,” Ernst told Ivanhoe.
But Maccarone’s story is not alone. Sudden cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death for young athletes.
“One in 300 will carry a form of cardiovascular disease that predisposes them to have a risk of sudden cardiac arrest,” explained Gul Dadlani, MD, Chief of Pediatric Cardiology at Nemours Children’s Hospital.
That’s why Ernst and doctors have push to require EKG screenings for student athletes.
Dr. Dadlani said, “An EKG enhances detection of forms of cardiovascular disease that can cause sudden cardiac arrest, such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, long QT, Wolff-Parkinson-White and other arrhythmias.”
Through the organization Who We Play For, EKG screenings are provided at no to low cost for student athletes. An abnormal EKG screening led Marianne Hendrix to find out her son Xavier had Wolff-Parkinson-White, a condition that causes a rapid heartbeat and increases the risk for sudden cardiac arrest.
Marianne shared, “He said your son is a ticking time bomb.”
But with the discovery of the heart condition, Xavier has switched focus from football to medicine.
“His desire is to be a pediatric cardiologist,” exclaimed Marianne. So Xavier can save lives and to give back to those who saved his.
Dr. Dadlani said that an EKG can’t detect all heart conditions that may lead to sudden cardiac arrest, but it will detect a majority of them. Who We Play For travels the country providing EKG screenings for as little as $20 and their efforts have gotten some counties in Florida to require EKG screenings for student athletes.
Contributors to this news report include: Milvionne Chery, Producer; Roque Correa, Editor and Videographer
HEART TO HEART: SAVING STUDENT ATHLETES AT RISK
BACKGROUND: A sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is often mistaken to be the same as a heart attack, however, they are different. A heart attack is sometimes referred to as having a ‘plumbing problem’, whereas a SCA is more of an ‘electrical problem’. This will prevent the heart from functioning effectively. A heart attack can lead to SCA, but there can be many other causes like congenital abnormalities, severe heart failure, electrocution, and drug overdose. When a person experiences SCA, their heart will stop beating without warning, they will collapse, lose consciousness, and look extremely pale. It strikes without warning, regardless of age, and requires immediate treatment to keep blood pumping and restart the heart to prevent brain damage and death.
SIGNS IN YOUNG ATHLETES: When SCA happens to a healthy young person, there is usually no clear injury or medical reason the patient or family knew about. Some who suffer SCA may have previously experienced heart-related symptoms, such as shortness of breath, chest pain, or fainting, that weren’t thought to be life-threatening. Others never had symptoms of heart problems until the SCA happened. The most common cardiovascular cause of SCA in young people is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy which is usually inherited and often undiagnosed. It’s where muscle cells in the heart’s lower chambers, called ventricles, thicken causing abnormal heart rhythm. Another cause is coronary artery abnormalities. These are defects in the way the coronary arteries connect to the heart which can lead to decreased blood supply to the heart muscle during exercise. Other causes are primary arrhythmias; myocarditis which is usually triggered by an infection causing inflammation to the walls of the heart; Marfan syndrome which is connective tissue disease that leads to tears in the heart’s aortic blood vessel; and commotio cordis which is caused by a blow to the chest directly over the heart at certain points in the heartbeat cycle.
NEW TREATMENT FOR SCA: Cardiovascular physicians with UC San Diego Health joined an international clinical trial utilizing a new Extravascular Implantable Cardioverter-Defibrillator (EV ICD) system to help treat SCA. This new device still requires leads, but rather than being implanted directly into the heart, the leads are placed outside the heart and veins. This approach allows the device to offer more pacing, or heart stimulation, in the event of a SCA. “With this new advancement in surgery, we’re no longer implanting these leads in a patient’s heart or vasculature, which we believe will result in better and safer care for patients at risk for sudden cardiac death,” said Ulrika Birgersdotter-Green, MD, director of Pacemaker and ICD Service at UC San Diego Health.
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