Sports Dangers Are Too Often Revealed In Tragedy


It is a sad fact of modern life that it takes tragedy to bring important information to the notice of the general public.  In this case – the death of a young person participating in sports.

The Need For A More Complete Sports Physical

There is no doubt that sudden death may be the first symptoms of cardiac disease. Do we actually believe that parents are going to encourage young male offspring seeking athletic glory to get better cardiac screening prior to athletic participation? I wish. In the U.S.A. we worship athletic achievement.  At the moment at least, we also worship cost-cutting.  I think it is going to be very hard to implement programs that will deliver the advanced technology that can predict cardiac sudden death. I also think that it will be all too easy to see a family cardiac history, let alone an expensive examination such as an echocardiogram, as something that could “rob” a young man (or woman) from an opportunity at athletic participation, maybe even a university scholarship.

High Cost Is A Poor Excuse

It is interesting that the first response to this essay on heart health comes from a country where the technology is cheaper than the U.S.  Our healthcare system is owned by insurance interests and political interests that jack up prices. We can’t all just move to Australia.

In case anyone has reservations about turning important decisions over to learned committees, the basic conclusion of august bodies of cardiologists is that it is “impractical” to incorporate even a standard electrocardiogram into the history and physical screening. It says government subsidy is required. They talk about adolescent (usually male) cardiac death as if it were something that upsets the community. Nothing about life being sacred or beyond cost.

There have got to be other people besides me who think like this.  And this is not the first time this issue has attracted my attention.

Think About Life After Athletics

Maybe not in America, where we treat sports like a religion. The illness which most often seems to cause the sudden death is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.  Like every other clinical association it has its own guidelines for diagnosis and screening.  These seem to me to be well thought out, and worthy of use. My real question is not one of how much screening we should get by with, but how much we can afford to pay for.  How completely can we possibly screen for the quality of life that people live not just during, but also after athletic careers? I have seen former professional, university, and school athletes who are broken men (more often than women).  I have helped them wipe their tears after injuries left them unable to do what they wanted. I have never seen them screened for things like their equilibrium, or the density of their bones, when their careers have been ended by accidents or falls.

As Always — Education May Be The Best Medicine

The best preventive medicine may be something nobody speaks or thinks about. Something I learned about in my French medical training, but that nobody mentions here. Education, the highest level achievable, may be the best preventive medicine, as it will predict an ex-athlete to build a career afterward. Once again, I find myself quoting the Bible, but I guess this is why my parents gave me this intensive early life Old Testament education. Deuteronomy 30:19: “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.” Now the truth of the matter is that this has been co-opted as everything from an anti-abortion slogan (I refuse to link) to an anti-suicide slogan (that, at least, I am all for.)  But the bottom line is that people do NOT choose life. They choose low-cost, they choose “athletic glory,” they choose things which I do not understand. Please choose life.

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