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Deadly Dangers on the Playing Field

High School Player

In this Friday, Sept. 17, 2010, photo, West Orange-Stark quarterback Reggie Garrett Jr. warms up for a football game against Jasper in Beaumont, Texas. Garrett collapsed on the sidelines shortly after throwing a touchdown pass in the game, and later died. A cause of death hasn't been determined. (AP Photo/The Beaumont Enterprise, Beth Rankin)

Some studies suggest that sudden cardiac death (SCD) in sports, while tragic, is a very rare event, but the reality is, these deaths are much more common than previously reported. And when it comes to your children, are you willing to take a chance?

According to a report in the journal Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, the individual with the highest risk for SCD may be the Division I black male basketball player. Other high-risk sports include football, swimming, lacrosse and cross-country.

While SCD in high-profile collegiate sports receives the majority of media attention, some research suggests that the incidence of it among high school athletes may actually be higher.

It is frightening to consider the potential risk to our children, especially since there’s an estimated 7 million high school athletes in the United States alone.

The journal article goes on to question the effectiveness of the currently required pre-participation history and physical. Given the rigors and intensity of a high school athletic program, coupled with the “win-at-all-costs” mentality seen in so many athletes, coaches and parents, it is no wonder that the “no pain, no gain” philosophy continues to thrive.

Many have argued that the benefit of cardiac screening simply does not outweigh the financial burden, approximately $200.00, placed on the individual. But saving lives and saving money do not have to be seen as mutually exclusive.

The implementation of a well-designed cardiac screening program, which is both comprehensive and detailed, may be more cost effective than previously thought.

In addition to screening for the major culprit of SCD and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, less common, but equally deadly cardiac conditions may also be detected.

The program should also screen for preventable chronic illnesses, which also are responsible for taxing the already strained health care system.

In conjunction with cardiac screening, a mandatory program focused on healthy lifestyle, safe athletic conditioning, and injury protection would certainly contribute to a well-rounded athletic program.

Here are some of the benefits a cardiac screening program offers:

1. Only those individuals identified with disease would need to be evaluated by a pediatric cardiologist.

2. Health education programs would reduce the incidence of disease from obesity, hypertension and diabetes.

3. Proper education would lead to healthier training methods and reduce the incidence of sports-related injuries.

4. And finally, saving lives: The risk of SCD would be reduced by up to 70 percent.

Here’s my final cost analysis:

Nike Air Jordans: $125.00
Sports Camps: $600.00
Aluminum Bat: $200.00
Saving lives with cardiac screening: Priceless

Dr. Robert J. Tozzi is the chief of pediatric cardiology and founder of the Pediatric Center for Heart Disease at Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, New Jersey. He is also the director of the Gregory M. Hirsch Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Center and a Fox News contributor.

Dr. Robert J. Tozzi is Chief of Pediatric Cardiology and the Founding Medical Director of The Gregory M. Hirsch Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Center at the Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. He is the co-author of several papers published in refereed research journals, and he has lectured extensively in his field at numerous professional conferences. To learn more, visit his website at DRTOZ.com.