The Madness of March, 2019

The competition throughout the NCAA basketball season is always high but as soon as March rolls around it changes dramatically. March Madness. Teams are no longer just competing against other teams, but they are competing for spots, wins, and championships. Brackets start forming, bets are on the table and the conversations start. Conversations about upsets, final four and championships but never heart conditions, AED devices or sudden cardiac arrest.

When you sit and watch the games, your main focus is that game. You aren’t thinking about injuries, the what-ifs or even heart issues. I know Shaquille O’Neal does. His 19-year-old son, Shareef was diagnosed with a heart condition at the end of last year.

Sudden cardiac arrest is the number one cause of death of student-athletes. In fact, every three days a young athlete in the US collapses and dies due to an undetected heart condition.

People typically don’t pay attention to the statistics unless it’s newsworthy and they read about it on their sports app. NCAA basketball players have a 1 in 3,000 chance of experiencing a sudden cardiac arrest event. In this NCAA tournament alone, there are three players and two coaches that have dealt with a heart-related issue. That is about 8%.

Minnesota a No. 10 seed will play today at 12:15 pm against No. 7 seed Louisville in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Did you know that Jarvis Johnson, a four-star prospect out of high school, recruited by ISU, was never able to suit up for Minnesota? Why? A heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. He was never cleared to play competitively and his career as a basketball player was cut short. As a sixth man, he is watching and cheering on his teammates from the sidelines.

Andre Wesson from Ohio State is a prized defender. There was a good chance that Ohio State wouldn’t have been at the No. 11 seed if it wasn’t for his skills, attitude, and progression this season. It is a big surprise to learn that Wesson had a slow start last season due to a heart issue that was discovered by the Ohio State’s team doctors.

Making it this far in the NCAA tournament felt like an impossibility to Ty Outlaw at Virginia Tech in 2015 when he was diagnosed with a heart condition. A heart condition that threatened to end his Hokies career. Outlaw was having difficulties recovering after drills during the preseason. Virginia Tech knew about a septal defect that Outlaw was born with that caused murmurs along with his high blood pressure. His struggles continued when he learned about his diagnosis of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. That was enough to shut him down in the 2015-2016 season. Now Outlaw has the reputation as being one of the top 3-point shooters in the ACC. Pretty impressive for someone with a heart condition.

No. 2 Michigan and No. 15 Montana will be facing off today at 9:20 pm. Who would have thought that both coaches have dealt with heart issues? Michigan Coach John Beilein had a double bypass heart operation. Montana Coach Steve Keller endured a heart attack just a few months ago.

Fortunately, the players above have happy endings. They might not be able to follow their dreams to play in the tournament or even the NBA but their life wasn’t cut short. In this month alone there were six teens that lost their lives from an undiagnosed heart condition or sudden cardiac arrest. Daron Lewis Godbee, 13; Jonathan “JT” Kuhn, 16; Domanique Jones, 18; Anonymous student, 16; Jermaine Falcaer, 16; and Scott Krulcik, 22.

These deaths could have been prevented with heart screenings or the use of an AED device.

Simon’s Heart is dedicated to changing the standard of care to screen all kids and make AED devices readily available in all schools and youth facilities. You never know if a seemingly healthy athlete could have a ticking time bomb.

As you continue to follow the NCAA tournament, change your perspective. Learn about the warning signs that lead to sudden cardiac arrest. Understand what an AED device is. Recognize where the closest device might be. Get your hearts checked.