Teen Athlete Deaths and the Need for Routine Screening
In less than a week, the shocking news of the sudden deaths of high school athletes Wes Leonard and Matthew Hammerdorfer has rocked parents, teachers, students, coaches and athletes across the country. How do we lose young athletes in top physical condition to sudden cardiac death in their teens? It seems to go against everything we understand about health, prevention and exercise.
The death of an athlete, especially during competition, gets a lot of attention. Along with that attention comes discussion and controversy over the need for increased screening. So, should we routinely be screening young athletes for hidden heart conditions? What about nonathletes?
One mother, Mary Beth Schewitz, believes we should incorporate routine electrocardiogram (ECG) testing into the physicals of young adults as a standard of care. Mary Beth is the mother of Max Schewitz, who died suddenly at age 20 from an apparent heart irregularity, having shown no prior signs of a heart disorder. She is also one of the founders of the Max Schewitz Foundation, established in part to support education, prevention, and research of sudden cardiac death in young people.
"Many, many Chicago area lives have been saved as a result of foundation-sponsored, free ECG testing, but young adults like Wes Leonard are dying," said Schewitz. "At the very least, physicians owe their young adult patients an unbiased discussion of the risks of sudden cardiac death, and the costs and benefits of screening ECGs."
According to Schewitz, the evidence about the incidence of hidden cardiac conditions revealed through ECG testing in large populations is quickly accumulating and yielding interesting research results. Well over 50,000 Chicago area high school students have been provided with free ECGs and, consistently, one to two percent of the tests are outside normal ranges and require further medical evaluation.Continued on the next page