What we can do
Playing sports should be fun, not dangerous. Yes, accidental injuries are sometimes unavoidable, but we should do all that we can to keep players safe. One of the smartest moves would be for the U.S. to follow Italy's move and mandate preventative medical prescreening in our athletes.
Sadly, we have no way of implementing an effective screening process at this time, due to our emphasis on decreased heath spending, our lack of trained physicians, and our large population of athletes.
But as individuals we should do what we can, from athletes voluntarily opting for medical evaluations, to coaches, schools and parents pushing to protect the safety of the future athletes of our country.
Sudden Athlete Deaths
Why Does This Happen?
The sudden death of an athlete is sad and confusing. How could an individual in top physical shape just die? Isn't exercise the way to health, the path to avoiding disease and an untimely death? And most importantly, is there any way to prevent this from ever happening again?
Thanks to athlete studies, we now know that the most common athlete death is from Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM), a genetic disease that kills more than 6,000 people each year. The irony of the disease is that exercise, especially the extreme exertion of a competing athlete, is dangerous for the victim instead of healthy. An athlete with HCM dies approximately every two weeks, during or immediately after exertion. (link: http://heartdisease.about.com/cs/cardiomyopathy/a/HCM.htm )
Italy has mandated preventative medical evaluations for all competing athletes between the ages of 1 - 40 since 1971. One study showed an 89% drop in sudden cardiovascular deaths in the prescreened athletes vs. the non-screened athletes. (http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/545464)
Heat-Related Deaths Are Preventable
Proper precautions and common sense go a long way in preventing heat-related deaths. Athletes need adequate hydration before, during, and after exertion, and practices should be scheduled during the cooler parts of the day instead of the hottest. Artificial turfs also factor in, as they heat up faster than grass and concrete, even after hosing down with water. Over 100 football players died from heart stroke between 1960 and 2001. All coaches and trainers should know the steps to preventing heat-related illnesses.
Heat-related deaths in high school players dip
Heat Illnesses: Why football players are at risk
The NOAA Heat & Humidity Calculator
Preventing heat related illness
Why Herbal Energy Products Are Dangerous For Athletes
Unregulated "herbal energy" products may contribute to heat-related deaths. Ma-Huang and Ephedrine have an amphetamine-like effect on the body, raising core body temperature while decreasing the body's natural ability to cool, possibly causing damage to the heart and central nervous system. Creatine Monohydrate is marketed as a muscle builder, but shifts body water from the bloodstream to the muscle cells, making heatstroke more likely. The NFL and the NCAA have both moved to ban Ephedrine use.
Sickle Cell Trait In Athletes
Sickle Cell Trait is a genetic flaw that affects approximately 2.5 to 3.5 Americans. Sickle cell affects the protein in the red blood cells, which carry oxygen to the tissues and organs, possibly causing problems for athletes. Sickle cell trait generally does not produce any symptoms, but may cause a severe reaction during intense physical exertion, extreme heat, high altitudes, and dehydration.
A sickle cell episode can cause shortness of breath, fatigue, and cramping, making it difficult to distinguish from simply being tired.
Experts say athletes with the sickle cell trait can compete at the highest levels if they are closely monitored. Adequate hydration is
key, as is having proper medical equipment and trained personnel in case of emergency.
The NSSO Fallen Athletes Registry provides information about athletes who have died while participating in sporting events. Each entry describes the fallen athlete and the details of their death. The registry chronology starts in August on 2001, the month when Rashidi Wheeler, son of NSSO founder George Wheeler, died while participating in a practice for Northwestern University.