When I was a kid, I remember that my neighbor’s house got robbed. What did they do next? Of course, they got an alarm system. This same “phenomenon” happens with sudden cardiac arrest. We hang AEDs and conduct screenings in communities where a kid has died. Do we really need to wait that long?
The sudden death of a seemingly healthy 12-year-old boy at a Holden soccer camp this past summer shocked camp workers and traumatized fellow campers.
The youth, Joshua D. Thibodeau of Holden, had no obvious pre-existing health condition and his family had completed a medical waiver and everything else required to clear their son for participation in the private program. Tragically, he collapsed and died July 18 during a low-impact drill with 15 other campers.
Joshua’s cause of death, according to the state medical examiner’s office in Boston, was cardiac dysrhythmia complicating hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, an inherited condition that affects approximately 1 in 500 people. Every year, there are similar horrific stories of young people suddenly collapsing and dying during sporting events.
According to the American Heart Association, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or HCM, is the most common cause of death in athletes younger than 35, responsible for about one-third of deaths. The heart muscle fibers of those afflicted multiply rapidly, especially during adolescence, leading to an enlarged heart that could be double or triple the normal size.
Cardiac dysrhythmia is a term encompassing various types of irregular heartbeats — from annoying to life threatening. If such a beat happens while a person with HCM is exercising, the electrical system in the heart suddenly fails and a heart attack occurs. Usually those with HCM have no idea they have the condition until disaster strikes.
Can the condition be discovered beforehand via an electrocardiogram as part of a routine physical?