Screening for athletes may save lives

April 17, 2009 11:11:55 AM PDT
The American Heart Association says about one in 100,000 students exercising will die of a hidden cardiac condition this year.And while heart screenings are required in Europe for young athletes, they are not in this country. But a Houston doctor and hospital are trying to change that.

Last month, 13-year-old Kaylyn Bowclair died during a girls' basketball game in Hitchcock. Her death came a week after 13-year-old Jocelyn Arias died during basketball practice in sugar land. Unfortunately, their deaths are not uncommon in Texas. Since 2001, 60 student athletes have died in the lone star state from hidden heart disease.

"Hypertrophic cardio-myopathy or an abnormal thickening of the heart, that's the commonest cause of student athletes dying," said Dr. John Higgins, Cardiologist at Memorial Hermann Heart and Vascular Institute.

Dr. John Higgins is a cardiologist at Memorial Hermann's Heart and vascular institute. He wants to prevent "sudden death" among young athletes before it happens.

"I am absolutely convinced that if you can identify a cardiac problem that is associated with high-risk we can do something to prevent these athletes from dying," said Dr. Higgins.

To do that, Dr. Higgins, Memorial Hermann, and the Roger Clemens Institute have submitted a proposal to the Texas Education Agency to do heart screenings on student athletes. The idea is to test them at age 12 before it's too late.

"So they don't go out then and do the real high-level competitive sports and potentially drop dead," said Dr. Higgins.

That's why Chase Rathke, a cross country runner at Seven Lakes High School, is getting his heart checked. He's aware of the potential danger.

"I think it's important to get your heart checked, to make sure you don't have any of those symptoms," said Rathke.

If his proposal is accepted, Dr. Higgins would take heart monitoring equipment directly to area schools for screenings. He believes he could save up to 20 lives a year.

"So we're really trying to go more into preventative cardiology," said Dr. Higgins. "Live longer, live healthier, strong hearts."

Dr. Higgins hopes to find out later this month if his proposal is accepted by the TEA. If it is, he says he'll start screening students at area schools in March.

To find out where you can go for local cost early heart screenings, Click Here.

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Christi Myers is ABC13's Healthcheck reporter


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