SUDDEN CARDIAC DEATH LEADING CAUSE OF DEATH IN YOUNG ATHLETES –
Apathy toward thorough screenings leaves some student athletes at risk and others dead. It is hard to think of healthy looking, athletically gifted young people dying of heart disease, but that, indeed is what is happening. Four high school athletes in Tennessee died in the first two months of the 2009-2010 school year, all of “apparent heart failure…” While electrocardiograms (ECGs) are used regularly to pre-screen athletes in Europe, particularly in Italy, debate continues as to whether the United States should call for more rigorous and broad health screening of athletes. Rev. Richard (Dick) Stafford of Phoenix, Arizona is one of those people blessed with a perpetually sunny personality. Dr. Stafford’s life changed July 18, 1991. That is the day his 15 year old son, Andrew, was driving home from summer school with two football teammates. Suddenly, and apparently without reason, Andrew collapsed. His friends had the sense to flag down a police car and thus began 90 minutes of anguish for the Stafford family. It ended with a teary eyed cardiologist telling Dick Stafford that his youngest child was gone; he would not turn 16 the next month; he would not graduate from high school; he would not go to college or marry. Six weeks later a clear diagnosis emerged Long Q.T. Syndrome. Only after Andrew’s death would the Stafford’s learn both their other children had the Syndrome.
“Two facts motivate me to serve as a volunteer leader in TOPS (Team of Physicians for Students). First, young people are still dying unnecessarily from undiagnosed heart problems,” Stafford explained. “We need a national comprehensive approach to screening for these heart related issues. Second, research in the United States and Europe proves that screening saves lives. If we can prevent one death all of this work is worthwhile. Diagnosis and early treatment can prevent a tragic death like Andrew's.”
Athletes dying of Sudden Cardiac Death have sparked recent news and media attention with a growing push for athletes to receive heart screening including: Chicago Bears defensive end Gaines Adams, dead at 26; Spanish soccer pro Dani Jarque, 26; French tennis star Mathieu Montcourt, 24; Shannon Veal, 17 year old Louisiana high school softball star, collapsed and died on the mound. Standard testing with a history and physical alone often does not detect cardiac abnormalities - many athletes appear to be completely healthy prior to having their fatal event. The most common cause of death in these young athletes is Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, or HCM, an abnormal thickening of the heart muscle that obstructs blood flow and prevents proper heart function. This is such a significant problem ESPN, The Wall Street Journal and other media have promoted public awareness and screening. The first symptom of HCM is often sudden death due to severe arrhythmias or fatal heart rhythms.
• HCM is linked to exertion from sports.
• HCM is difficult to detect from normal testing.
• Symptoms vary and often go undetected.
• HCM is genetically passed down within families.
• HCM affects 1 in 500 people in the U.S., the most common cause of sudden cardiac arrest in people under age 30.
Sports Illustrated reporter David Epstein posed this question in 2007: Following the Trail of Broken Hearts A congenital cardiovascular abnormality has become a leading killer of young athletes in the U.S. So why isn't more being done to save those who have it? http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2007/more/12/04/broken.hearts1210/index.html
One of three founders of Sports Medicine as a medical specialty; first team physician for the Phoenix Suns of the NBA, now Team Physician Emeritus, Paul M. Steingard, Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, started providing sports physicals for his patients who were high school athletes 45 years ago. Shortly thereafter, this jovial, unassuming man brought in his long-time friend, William J. Rappoport, M.D., now a cardiologist with the Arizona Heart Institute. The two friends teamed up to include cardiac tes