Health Alert: Heart problems in student athletes

NATIONAL - We've all heard the tragic stories - a seemingly healthy high school athlete suddenly dies during a game from an un-diagnosed heart condition. In fact, that is exactly what happened to the Clemson swimmer this week who died while jogging. But there just may be a way we can prevent these unexpected deaths.

Sydney Watts is a healthy 16-year-old. So why did she faint during a recent track meet? "I was running the 400 and I passed out at a certain point I hit and I just collapsed."

Could there be something wrong with her heart? The Beaumont Hospital 'Heart Fit' screening program for high school athletes may provide clues.

Kim Bonzheim, M.S.A., says, "We were looking for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is really a strong risk factor for sudden death in student athletes."

In HCM, the walls of the heart become thick and stiff and it can't pump enough blood. Sadly for some, a cardiac arrest is the first sign of the problem. Caught early, the condition is treatable.

Dr. David Haines says, "By doing the screening test, the electrocardiogram, a physical exam and a list of 12 simple questions, we can identify a subgroup of children who may be at increased risk for this condition."

HCM isn't common and screening for the problem is controversial. But Watts' doctors took a cue from a recent Italian study that shows screening reduces the risk of sudden death in athletes by up to 89 percent.

Bonzheim says, "If we can identify even one of these kids, that's definitely well worth the effort."

Turns out Sydney's heart is fine. Doctors say her fainting spell was probably from dehydration.

Posted by Chantelle Janelle