It’s happening again. The Celtics and Heat meet in the NBA Playoffs. The Heat are favored. The taking heads and commentators are analyzing the injuries, youthfulness and physical edge of the teams to predict the winner. However, there’s another factor at play. This year, the teams have more heart. More specifically, each team has a player that could have dropped dead from sudden cardiac arrest because he had an undetected heart condition.
Ronny Turiaf will take to the court as starting center for the Miami Heat. In 2005, he underwent open heart surgery for a heart condition that was detected through a routine physical. Jeff Green was supposed to take the court for this series as forward for the Celtics, but he underwent surgery at the beginning of the season after discovering a heart condition during a a routine exam. Like Turiaf, Green is expected to make a full recovery and return to the NBA.
The NBA is no stranger to sudden death caused by undetected heart conditions. That roster contains the names of Yinka Dare, Kevin Duckworth, Reggie Lewis, Robert Traylor and Jason Collier. In fact, at the beginning of this season, LaMarcus Aldridge (Trailblazers) also discovered a heart condition during a routine physical exam.
In 2006, the NBA was the first league to institute a standard cardiac screening for all of its players. As such, we are able to watch Turiaf and Green play for championships instead of wondering about the careers of Dare and Duckworth. But, why did the NBA take this step? Because it responded to a problem.
Sudden cardiac arrest is the indisputable leading cause of death of adults in the U.S (300,000 plus). It is also kills the most student athletes every year. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, at least 2,000 children die every year from sudden cardiac arrest. The conditions that lead to sudden cardiac arrest are detectable and preventable, so why don’t we check the hearts of our student athletes too?