February is designated as American Heart Month, so it seemed like an appropriate time to bring up a real health concern in youth sports—heart failure. At first it may not seem like a reasonable concern. After all, what active youth athlete has to worry about the health of their heart? Sprained ankles and jammed fingers, bloody noses and bruised shins—these are all much more common youth sports injuries. A torn ACL may look like the end of the world to a serious youth athlete, but players can recover from a torn ACL. It’s hard to recover when your heart gives out on the court and help comes too late.
16-year-old Wes Leonard was pronounced dead last March after collapsing on the basketball court. The medical examiner determined that Leonard suffered sudden cardiac arrest due to an enlarged heart, while two independent autopsies concluded that he might have survived had someone realized what was going on and had an automated external defibrillator available. Here is a snippet from the USAToday.com story about Wes Leonard:
The Wes Leonard Heart Team was created with the mission of getting defibrillators and people trained to use them placed at every school in the state to prevent similar tragedies. A bill that would require public schools to have defibrillators or AEDs present and “readily accessible” was introduced in the state Senate in November.
When students are present, schools would be required to have someone trained to use the device — and also trained in CPR — on hand.
While sports parents and coaches should always call 911 in case of an emergency, in the case of sudden cardiac arrest an automated external defibrillator can make the difference between life and death. The longer it takes to administer help, the lower the chances of survival so it’s important that AEDs be kept close at hand during youth sporting events—every second counts.
Unfortunately, Wes Leonard is not the first youth athlete to die from sudden cardiac arrest and it’s sad to say that he most likely won’t be the last. While sudden cardiac arrest in athletes is rare, it is not unheard of. That’s why it so important for sports parents, coaches and administrators to learn first aid basics and life-saving techniques. Your actions in the first few minutes of a health crisis might determine whether or not that youth athlete survives.
If you are interested in making a donation to the Wes Leonard Heart Team, visit http://www.wesleonardheartteam.org/shop/donation/