Published in the Huffington Post
February is American Heart Month, and there is no shortage of events promoting cardiac health. We do it. This past weekend, Simon’s Fund hosted its annual gala called Simon’s Soiree: An Affair From the Heart. However, unlike most, our event was focused on bringing awareness to heart conditions in students because sudden cardiac arrest isn’t just an adult thing. It takes the lives of thousands of children every year. In 2005, it took the life of my son, Simon.
Two years ago, I attended a Philadelphia 76ers game that was designated as “Go Red Night.” This is a very successful marketing campaign conducted by the American Heart Association to bring awareness to heart disease in women.
As we walked in the venue, we were given a Go Red for Women sticker and a postcard to record the name of a loved one that had experienced heart problems. Throughout the game, the crowd was educated about the stark reality that sudden cardiac arrest is the No. 1 cause of death in this country. We learned about the warning signs for women and what steps they can take to modify their lifestyles for better heart health.
I was struck by three things. First, there were a lot of kids at the basketball game. Second, there was no mention about heart health for kids. Couldn’t the No. 1 killer of women in this country be best prevented by teaching little girls about heart health too? Third, as we sat watching these athletes compete, there was no mention of the fact that sudden cardiac arrest is the No. 1 cause of death of NCAA student athletes. Every player on that court was a student athlete at some point, just like many of the children in the crowd.
The NBA is great backdrop to discuss the issue of heart health because conditions that lead to sudden cardiac arrest have impacted several players over the years: Yinka Dare (died), Eddy Curry (surgery), Reggie Lewis (died), Ronny Turiaf (surgery), Kevin Duckworth (died), Cuttino Mobley (retired), Etan Thomas (surgery), Jason Collier (died), Robert Traylor (died), Zeijko Rebraca (retired), Fred Hoiberg (surgery) and Mikahil Torrance (retired).
In 2006, the NBA set the standard on fighting sudden cardiac arrest and protecting its players as it became the first major sports league to institute mandatory heart screenings. Since, the other leagues have followed. The implementation of this measure, which actually exceeds the recommendations of the American Heart Association, has saved lives.
A few years ago, LaMarcus Aldridge of the Portland Trailblazers was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome. He underwent a medical procedure. Jeff Green of the Boston Celtics discovered an aortic aneurism and underwent surgery to correct the problem. Chuck Hayes of the Sacramento Kings failed his physical due to a heart condition. He was later cleared to play and recorded two rebounds and one assist in last night’s game against the 76ers. It’s pretty amazing, that in one year, in a league of 450 players, almost 1 percent of them discovered heart conditions as a result of the heart screening requirement.
Two years ago, at least two players from the Phoenix Suns were sidelined due to heart conditions — Jermaine O’Neal and Channing Frye. Last year, Isaiah Austin was disqualified from the NBA draft due to a heart condition (Marfan Syndrome).
Simon’s Fund, and other nonprofit organizations around the country, think that the NBA and the other professional leagues are on to something. Like the leagues, these groups provide heart screenings to students. At these screenings, approximately one out of every 100 students screened discovers a heart condition. Sounds a little bit like the NBA, huh?
In addition to detecting potentially-fatal heart conditions, these screenings are revealing risk factors of hypertension and obesity which lead to heart disease. Is it better to catch this at age 14 or wait until we are 44?
We owe it to our kids to do better job this February. Let’s stop pretending that heart problems belong to our parents. Prevention should start with our kids. Just like we check out kids eyes and ears in school, we should be checking their hearts too. Let’s follow in the footsteps of the NBA. Let’s Go Krimson for Kids.