A 1997 study found that one in 255 high-school athletes had a "serious or potentially serious" heart defect that had the potential to preclude them from athletic participation. Although awareness of the issue has grown over the years, there are no mandatory tests for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is the technical name for the defect that makes kids drop dead while they're playing basketball.
Undiagnosed heart problems killed a Massachusetts boy in 2008, a Maryland mother in 2007, and numerous professional athletes over the years. The most recently publicized case was last year, when 16-year-old Michigan basketball player Wes Leonard made a game-winning lay-up, then collapsed to the court and died. A Delray Beach cardiologist wants to keep it from happening in South Florida.
Bruce Martin, who founded the Boca Delray Cardiology Center, has also opened the High School Athlete Cardiac Screening Center of South Florida to provide athletes with screenings that include a heart ultrasound, EKG, and blood pressure tests, according to a release.
Unsurprisingly, the release also quotes Martin's partner, Brad Artel, saying that "children who are involved in competitive sports or exertional activities are at most risk, but every child could potentially benefit from the screening."
Martin's website states that, while there are frequently no symptoms associated with the condition, some may experience shortness of breath, chest pain, irregular heartbeats, light-headedness, and fainting and adds that cardiomyopathy is sometimes misdiagnosed as athletically induced asthma or a mitral valve prolapse.
Although Martin's program is a clever repackaging ("Is your child at risk for sudden death?") of long-known diagnostic techniques for a relatively rare occurrence, studies have found screenings to be wildly beneficial in reducing overall fatalities among athletes: In Italy, for example, mandatory heart screenings for athletes as young as 12 have reduced sudden cardiac deaths by 89 percent. If you're interested in more information, a 2009 Slate column makes the case for mandatory testing in the U.S., and Martin's number is 561-499-9990.