Enlarged heart screenings ahead of Fall sports, doctor talks about risk

Posted at 8:42 PM, Aug 26, 2014
and last updated 2014-08-27 08:15:55-04

KALAMAZOO, Mich. -- With Fall sports getting into full swing, the issue of sports physicals and student health is again on the minds of not only kids, but also their parents.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, also known as an enlarged heart is a condition that has claimed the lives of a few West Michigan athletes  over the past few years,  including Grandville High School hockey captain Ryan Fischer last March.

"Because of the sports physicals and everything like that, this is usually the time that these start to come out," said Dr. James Loker, Pediatric Cardiologist.

Doctor James Loker at Bronson Children’s Hospital said that with the beginning of a new school year, student athletes in west Michigan who have a family history of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy should be screened for the irregular heart condition.

"A lot of times these sort of come up when they start getting into more high school athletics because of that increased level of exercise that they need to do," said Dr. Loker.

While Dr. Loker said that fatal cardiac events commonly occur before a diagnosis can be made, he does say that there can be warning signs.

"If they have history that they get dizzy when they are exercising or severe chest pain when they are exercising. Those sorts of histories or palpitations, those are the things that we look at to determine whether or not we need to do further intervention," said Dr. Loker.

Doctor Loker said that after a student athlete is diagnosed with an enlarged heart, it doesn’t necessarily mean they can no longer participate in sports.

"What we see is because of that diagnosis, it does increase their risk of cardiac events during exercise and that is when we would say, okay we need to limit your level of activity," said Dr. Loker.

Dr. Loker said that because of the high cost of EKG and echocardiogram testing, it doesn’t make financial sense to screen all student athletes for an enlarged heart condition. Lokker said that about 1 in 500 are affected, and even fewer than that will actually experience a cardiac event.

"Our young man up in Grandville died at night when he was asleep. It wasn't associated with sports. I had another child that died stepping onto a school bus. So, it doesn't have to happen with sports," said Dr. Loker.

Dr. Loker also said that the best defense in the event of a cardiac arrest is for schools to have automatic external defibrillators or AED's near the playing field, since time is critical.

"If they are out on the field, and your AED is locked away in the office, you don't have an AED," said Dr. Loker.

Dr. Loker said that hopefully awareness and prevention can help save lives before it’s too late.

"A lot of parents, you know once they've had a child that has a cardiac event, it's a very emotional process. It's a very emotional time for them. They want to make sure that it does t happen to any other student," said Dr. Loker.

Last May, about 40 Michigan schools were honored for becoming a "MI HEARTsafe School" after they were certified for having CPR and AED training to help better assist during a cardiac emergency.