Every year, sometimes every few months, we hear of another story of a seemingly healthy athlete who dies on the field because of an undetected heart problem. But, today there are machines capable of discovering these heart defects, and a new study suggests there are more of these defects than previously thought.
Seventeen-year-old Tricia McCue was an all-around athlete, but in her senior year, doctors discovered a hole in her heart. She was shocked. "It never crossed my mind that I'd have this," says Tricia.
She was lucky. The defect was found during an echocardiogram, or heart ultrasound, offered through a mobile screening program at her school.
"Looking for the primary causes of sudden death in teenage athletes and that is a disease called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. To keep it simple, we'll call it HCM." says Dr. Eduardo Montana, a pediatric cardiologist
HCM is a thickening of the heart and is the most serious condition the test can reveal. At the University of Wisconsin doctors performed echocardiograms on almost 400 athletes. They discovered that 14 percent had minor heart abnormalities and 2 percent had major defects.
"I think it has the potential to really save lives if we find one child with HCM," says Dr. Montana, "Certainly if you ask any of the parents who've had children die of HCM they all say if their child had had the scan that year, that would have been very good, a very good thing."
What can also save a child's life, Dr. Montana says, is a comprehensive physical exam and as well as a detailed family history given to you doctor. He says we should teach our kids to pay attention to their bodies. "To know if they're light headed, if they're dizzy, if they're having palpitations, chest pain, easy fatiguing out of proportion to what they normally have," explains Dr. Montana.
Shortly after it was detected, Tricia had surgery to repair the hole in her heart. "I was relieved that it wasn't an enlarged heart and that there was something that could be done about it and that I'd be okay," says Tricia.