An issue bigger than sports for athletes

Football is on a lot of our minds today. In Dallas, most of us are disgusted that the Cowboys only scored 3 points against the Vikings and that Favre (from Mississippi like moi) tossed his fourth touchdown with less than two minutes left in a game that was well-past competitive. I don’t really care that much about the games played this weekend, though. I am a Chicago Bears fan, which means I’m usually done cheering for NFL games long before the playoffs come around.

However, a piece of football news that did catch my attention this weekend was that Gaines Adams, a newly-acquired defensive end for my beloved Bears, died of cardiac arrest on Sunday at a hospital in South Carolina. If you ever saw pictures or video of the guy, you would be a little shocked that he died of a heart attack. He was built like a Greek god – 6’5” and 258 lbs. of granite – not like “Refrigerator” Perry. And he was only 26. But, evidently, heart problems don’t just affect the old and obese. They affect the young and seemingly healthy, too.

If you’ve been a sports fan for a while, you’ll remember the names of Reggie Lewis and Hank Gathers. Both were world-class, long, lean basketball stars when they suddenly died of heart issues playing the game they loved. Lewis was 27. Gathers was 23. Just last week, Southern Indiana basketball player Jeron Lewis collapsed in the middle of a game and died from heart complications. He was 21.

Doctors at Children’s working on prevention

Sports HealthStories like those initially make me feel helpless – like the sky is falling and I can’t even lift my arms to slow it down. Then I remember that – fortunately for us all – I am not a doctor, and people like Drs. William Scott and Ilana Zeltser, pediatric cardiologists in The Heart Center at Children’s, are. Instead of acting passive and defeated, they are participating in a research study to identify children who may be at-risk for sudden death episodes.

Sudden death episodes primarily occur in apparently healthy children during a time of strenuous physical exertion, and are most often attributed to previously undiagnosed cardiac diseases. Children’s is one of three institutions leading a state-wide cardiac research study to address the need for a pre-sports screening program in Texas so heart problems in young athletes can be identified before it’s too late.

Over the course of a year through this study, 15,000 student athletes received an electrocardiagram — a test measuring the electrical activity of the heart. Dr. Scott, professor of Pediatrics at UT Southwestern, and Dr. Zeltser, assistant professor of Pediatrics at UT Southwestern, are examining the electrocardiograms.

“Our goal is to establish new standards for normal electrocardiogram values in the adolescent athlete,” Dr. Zeltser said. “We are focusing on the degree to which gender, race and body mass index affect the interpretations. We hope to increase the sensitivity and specificity of the electrocardiogram as a screening tool for sudden death in young athletes.”

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One Response to An issue bigger than sports for athletes

  1. Janet January 19, 2010 at 5:50 pm #

    >Beautifully written article. I hope the doctors are successful in setting up a cardiac screening for our young athletes.

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