When a local high school cross-country runner started fainting after training sessions last fall, his doctors ran a series of tests, including some for conditions known to cause sudden cardiac death. For a highly conditioned athlete accustomed to running 25 miles or more per week, his exercise-related fainting was an alarming symptom, said Baton Rouge pediatric cardiologist Michael Brumund, MD. “Something wasn’t right.”
The young athlete was diagnosed with a rare abnormality in a coronary artery that supplies blood to his heart.
Surgery performed in November 2014 successfully repaired the teen’s heart problem. By the spring of 2015, he had fully recovered and was running with his high school track team. “He recently ran about a five-minute mile,” Dr. Brumund said. Undetected, certain heart conditions can kill otherwise healthy athletes.
Sudden cardiac death is how the popular LSU baseball player Wally Pontiff died in 2002. In 1988, it’s what felled ex- LSU basketball legend Pete Maravich at 40 years of age.
In 2011, 22 Louisiana athletes between the ages of 12 and 18 died of cardiac-related issues, according to the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals. To try and prevent sudden cardiac death in high school athletes, the Louisiana Pediatric Cardiology Foundation (LPCF) established Save-A-Heart. The program provides free heart screenings for high school athletes.
High schools simply sign up to have their student-athletes screened for free. LPCF provides equipment for the screenings, and Pediatric Cardiology Associates’ medical staff conducts the examinations and analyzes the results at no cost. Any Louisiana high school athlete can receive a free screening, including those whose school does not participate in Save-A-Heart. The screening, which takes about seven minutes, involves completing a one-page questionnaire, an electrocardiogram and a basic ultrasound.
Ideally, Dr. Brumund said, athletes will get screened twice during their high school years.