Community Initiative Announced to Save Student Athlete’s Lives

06/04/2008

Free Screenings for deadly heart condition to be offered in July

(Green Bay, WI)   A community initiative was announced today at Lambeau Field to provide free screenings for area high school athletes to identify those who might have a deadly heart condition called Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM).  

“Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy is the most common cause of sudden death among young athletes in the U.S.,” explained Dr. James Rider, a cardiologist with Cardiology Associates.  “In fact, every two weeks in the U.S. a young person dies from this condition. We hear about these cases in the media on a regular basis.”  Generally, those who die from the condition are young athletes who have just participated in some form of strenuous exercise.

Green Bay Packers Coach Mike McCarthy knows firsthand the devastating effects of undetected heart conditions in young athletes.   When he was an assistant coach for the San Francisco 49ers, one of his players, Thomas Herrion, collapsed and died in 1995 following a preseason game. Initially, it was believed to be from HCM.  However, an autopsy revealed it was from an undetected heart blockage. “I cannot explain what a horrifying and helpless feeling it is to see a young, healthy athlete who had just played a great game, walk into the locker room and, literally in a second, collapse and die. This happens too often.  Anything we can do to prevent deaths in young athletes from undetected heart problems is worth doing.  That is why we are joining this program to promote the free screenings.” 

The effort is believed to be the first time in this country where the medical community has partnered with a major professional sports organization to do this type of screening.  “If we can detect and save even one young athlete, it will be worthwhile,” added McCarthy.

While HCM usually has no symptoms, there is a test that can, in many cases, detect the problem.  But, because the cost of a complete echocardiogram costs about $1,000, it is seldom used as part of routine student physicals. 
“That is why the Green Bay Packers, Bellin Health and Cardiology Associates have teamed up, along with a number of other businesses and organizations, to offer free, abbreviated screenings to area student athletes,” said Andrea Werner, Director of the Bellin Health Heart and Vascular Center. An abbreviated screening will, in most cases, indicate whether further medical testing is needed.

Because this is the first year of the program, it is being piloted only for area high school athletes.  “We hope that this program will expand every year to include more students and additional locations,” said Dr. Rider.  “In fact, we hope it will spur on other communities to do the same.”

Green Bay Packers Trainer Bryan Engel said, as a parent and someone who works with young athletes, he wants to urge parents to make sure they register their student athlete for the screening.  “Here is something you can do pro-actively that might save your child’s life,” he said.  Engel added the test is not intended to be a substitute for a regular physical; it is in addition to the screenings student athletes undergo on a routine basis.

As for the test itself, “It takes 90 seconds to perform and it’s non-invasive,” explained Dr. Rider.   “You’ll receive the results immediately.”  If a test indicates a student might have HCM, medical experts will be on hand to meet with the student and his or her parents.  “We’ll recommend additional, more comprehensive testing,” said Dr. Rider.  “It’s important to note that if a young person has this condition, it is something they can live with, but it will mean the student should not participate in any strenuous or vigorous physical activity.”

“The free screenings will take place 3 Saturdays in July:  12th, 19th, and 26th between 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. at Bellin’s Health & Athletic Performance Center, 1630 Commanche Avenue in Green Bay.   To make an appointment, parents should call:  920-430-4750.  A parental consent form is also required for this screening. It may be downloaded online at www.bellin.org or filled out the day of the screening.

Those attending today’s news conference to announce the free screenings said this type of effort could not happen without community and business collaboration.   The use of four echocardiogram machines is being donated by medical equipment manufacturers SonoSite and Siemans. The Concerned Hearts Club of Green Bay and Bellin’s XL trainers will provide volunteer staffing.   The Bellin Foundation is underwriting a number of other costs associated with the screenings.       

“By joining together, we’re able to do something for area student athletes that will make a difference and possibly save lives,” said Michael Frohna of the Bellin Foundation.  “There’s no better way to serve the community.”

# # #
Media Contact:
Dana Bzdawka
Bellin Health
Work: 433-7811
Cell: 619-7811