Protecting the heart of a champion

by Morgan Smith

Local doctors and volunteers are getting ready for the Carolinas HealthCare System’s Heart of a Champion Day. The event involves screening local student athletes for medical conditions that may cause them problems during competition. The screenings are free to the student athletes, but the event can only serve around 2,000 athletes, so advanced registration is required. Photo courtesy of Carolinas HealthCare System

Some student-athletes in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools know what it means to have a heart of a champion.

They also know the importance of heart health and have experienced first-hand special screenings for heart abnormalities.

And soon, other student-athletes will have the chance to ensure strong hearts as well through Heart of a Champion Day, a program pioneered by Carolinas HealthCare System that gives students across Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and other neighboring counties the opportunity to have free, in-depth screenings like the electrocardiogram and echocardiogram not found in the typical athletic physical. Advanced registration is required online at Registration opens April 30 for this year’s June 2 event.

Last year, nearly 800 volunteers from Levine Children’s Hospital, Carolinas Medical Center, CMC-Pineville, CMC-Lincoln and CMC-Union staffed the four different screenings across the greater-Charlotte area, seeing nearly 2,000 athletes at no cost to the students or their families, a $1,500 value. Out of those students, 1,372 were from CMS alone and around 130 of them were flagged for medical follow-ups.

“The most common things we found were previously undiagnosed high blood pressure, scoliosis, ankle sprains that haven’t been rehabbed correctly, uncontrolled asthma and skin conditions,” David Price, medical director of the event, said. Many of the athletes don’t have a regular family physician, Price added, so students are provided with orthopedic and general medical screenings, as well.

But at the heart of the event, Price said, are the cardiac screenings, where doctors look for three main genetic defects – hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or a thickening of the heart muscle that can result in death; Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, or heart abnormality that causes irregular, rapid heart beats; and Long Q-T Interval Syndrome, a hereditary disorder of the heart’s electrical rhythm that reduces blood flow and causes fainting.

Just last year, Price said physicians found a student with a severely enlarged heart that is known to cause cardiac arrest.

“The fact that she hadn’t had (any problems) was impressive, but then again she was young,” he said. “The younger you can catch it, the better.”

The program started five years ago in CMS, and has expanded to Fort Mill, S.C., Indian Trail and Lincolnton.

“We basically started this to protect athletes from injury and just dropping from cardiac arrests,” Price said. “It’s kind of a grassroots effort that we are going to try and spread regionally and other school systems have even reached out to us.”

Sue Doran, athletic director for CMS, said the program is a very special day for the district’s athletes from all 19 high schools that offer sports.

“The event brings together some of the best doctors and physicians in the Charlotte area and it’s a very comprehensive health screening,” Doran said. “It’s just a tremendous opportunity for our student-athletes to get a comprehensive medical look at no cost to them. It certainly is an opportunity for student athletes who struggle with the cost of a health-screening.”

Doran hopes to see the program grow in the future, since CMS has 16,000 athletes – 10,000 high school and 6,000 middle school students – and the capacity for the June 2 event is just 2,000 students. But both Price and Doran hope first, to see more students in CMS have the screenings.

Registration is required and is open April 30 to May 28 for CMS student athletes. Registration is online at Click the “Students” tab at the top of the page. CMS will provide transportation from high schools to the event at Carolinas College of Health Sciences, 1200 Blythe Blvd., in Charlotte.

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