Screening athletes for heart problems
Conner Hardy, a first-year student from Wirtz, Va., was one of 200 athletes screened for heart risk as the 2013-14 academic year gets underway. Conner, who is trying out for men’s soccer, said it makes sense to do the screening. “It keeps everyone a lot safer,” he said.
Lynchburg College is probably the only Division III school in the nation that screens all its athletes for potential heart abnormalities, said Dr. Sean Collins, assistant professor of exercise physiology.
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LC can afford to do this thanks to two electrocardiogram (ECG) machines donated to LC by the Cardiovascular Group of the CENTRA Stroobants Heart Center.
Dr. Collins also administers the ECG (also known as EKG) tests and passes the results on to Dr. Mark Townsend, a specialist in Pediatric and Adult Congenital Cardiology for the Cardiovascular Group, who was a driving force behind the donation. Both Dr. Collins and Dr. Townsend do their work pro bono.
Of the nearly 500 athletes tested in the last three years, five have been found to have genetic cardiac abnormalities and have been referred for further testing, Dr. Collins said.
“Everyone who has tested positive has been able to continue to play,” he said.
Jim May, director of athletic training services, said his concern was whether this program would be sustainable, but thanks to the dedication of both Dr. Townsend and Dr. Collins, it has proven to be a manageable task.
“This helps our ongoing effort to increase the level of care we can provide for our student-athletes,” May said. “Our exercise physiology students are able to use these machines to gain real-life experience.”
Dr. Collins said he would like to do a research this project this year, aimed at determining whether more schools can afford to offer this kind of screening. He said that about 20 Division I schools offer it nationally.
The machines were donated in memory of LC freshman Adam Seymour, whose heart failed less than an hour into the first men’s soccer practice of the 2010-11 season. Adam collapsed during a 1.5-mile run, was given CPR, and was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. He was pronounced dead three days later.
Accurate statistics on student athlete deaths due to cardiac arrest are difficult to ascertain because there is no requirement that cause of death be logged in a central database, Dr. Collins said. Some studies show, however, that as many as one in 3,000 men’s basketball players may die from a genetic heart problem.
Statistics like those make the program worth the effort, May said. So at LC, every athlete or potential athlete is tested once a year. “It provides assurance for us and the athletes,” he said.