Call for more screening for young athletes after cardiac arrest

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A time of celebration turned to sadness last month when a Michigan high school basketball star collapsed and later died after scoring the winning basket. An autopsy found the 16-year-old died from cardiac arrest due to an enlarged heart.

He, along with other young athletes who have suffered from sudden cardiac death over the years, brings up the question once again, are there enough screening tests being done on our kids before they play sports?

A Valley woman shares her story and why she thinks every young life deserves a fighting chance.

“He got in his car after the weight room, tried to drive home and he got two blocks away and had sudden cardiac arrest,” Sharon Bates said.

It's been more than 10 years since Bates' son, Anthony, died. The 20-year-old had just finished a workout with his Kansas State University football team before going into sudden cardiac arrest. It was discovered he had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a genetic heart disease resulting in a thickening of the heart muscle.

“I replayed my son’s life in my head trying to figure out why I didn't know that there was something else wrong,” Bates said.

Anthony was a graduate of Mountain Pointe High School. He had been playing sports since he was a kid. Bates said her son didn't present with any of the classic symptoms.

“I didn't know dizziness, shortness of breath, chest pains, heart palpitations and passing out were symptoms, but then again he only had one of them,” Bates said.

Sudden death happens when this heart condition goes undetected.

“The sad news is a lot of the kids dying are not athletes,” Bates said.

To make sure other parents don't go through the same tragedy, The Anthony Bates Foundation provides free heart screenings for all students and athletes ages 12 to 22.

“We find 10 percent of the kids that come through have undiagnosed heart issues and we're talking about things as minor as high blood pressure, but as major as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy,” Bates said.

The testing includes an electrocardiogram and echocardiogram. These tests are not mandatory when a high school athlete gets a physical.

But according to a new study published in the American Heart Journal, U.S. researchers found doing a low-cost electrocardiogram might help identify children who are at risk for sudden cardiac arrest.

“I think just having a family physician take a history from a student, talk about his family history, examine the child is inadequate,” Dr. William Rappoport said. “I think an EKG should be mandatory.”

Rappoport is with the Arizona Heart Institute. He also gives free heart screening tests with another Valley group called Team of Physicians for Students (TOPS). 

“The cost of an EKG is less than the cost of a good pair of athletic shoes,” Rappoport said. “What's the cost of a life? What is the value of a life?”

While heart testing isn't mandatory, Dr. David Carfagno with Scottsdale Sports Medicine Institute said that doesn't mean parents have to sit on the sidelines and wait.

“Is there family history or sudden cardiac death before the age of 40,” Carfagno said. “Is your child having symptoms that are concerning, then take it on your own to pursue advanced testing.”

“We put fences around pools to protect children, don't you think we should put a fence around a heart?” Bates said.

For more information, contact www.anthonybates.org and www.aztops.org.