Lessons from the NBA – Checking Hearts and Saving Lives

In basketball, we hear about “threes” all of the time.  A player lines up behind the arc, lets it go, and drains a three pointer.  This past week, “threes” took on a new meaning.  When the big news was supposed to be about the NBA (finally) starting its season, the stories were much more grave.

LaMarcus Aldridge of the Portland Trailblazers was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome.  He underwent a medical procedure.  Jeff Green of the Boston Celtics discovered an aortic aneurysm and underwent surgery to correct the problem.   Chuck Hayes of the Sacramento Kings failed his physical due to a heart condition.  In a league of 450 players, almost one percent of them discovered a potentially fatal heart condition in the last week.

The NBA is no stranger to these heart conditions – Yinka Dare (died), Eddy Curry (surgery), Reggie Lewis (died), Ronny Turiaf (surgery), Kevin Duckworth (died), Cuttino Mobley (retired), Etan Thomas (surgery), Jason Collier (died), Robert Traylor (died), Zeijko Rebraca (retired), Fred Hoiberg (surgery) and Mikahil Torrance (retired).

These players had access to the best medical care.  Some of them were screened, some treated, and unfortunately, some died.  Seven years ago, our son, Simon, died suddenly.  He wasn’t a basketball player; he wasn’t screened; he was three months old.  Through testing, we discovered that he, like many of these athletes, had a heart condition.  His was Long QT Syndrome.

Following his death, we started to pay attention to the stories about the thousands of other kids — infants, toddlers and teens — who drop dead every year from sudden cardiac arrest.   The kids are sleeping in their cribs.  They are swimming with friends.  They are driving their car.  They are playing sports.  Their deaths are often times chalked up to SIDS, drowning, fatal auto accident and/or dehydration.

Sudden cardiac arrest is the indisputable leading cause of death of adults in the U.S.  It is also kills the most student athletes every year.  If our children are going to face these realities, why aren’t we checking hearts and saving lives?

In 2006, the NBA was the first league to institute a standard cardiac screening for all of its players.  As a result, the stories are less tragic.  Like the stories from last week, conditions are being detected and treated; fewer players are dropping dead.

Back in the 1980’s, the Italians started screening the hearts of all school-aged children.  As a result, they reduced the incidents of sudden cardiac death in kids by 89%.  Today, our organization, Simon’s Fund, along with other organizations around the country, are providing heart screenings to tens of thousands of students every year.  Collectively, we are finding that one out of every 100 students we screen has an undetected and potentially fatal heart condition.  These are reasons enough to begin screening our children’s hearts.

We screen our kids at birth for dozens of rare genetic conditions.  At school, all of our children get their eyes examined and hearing checked.  It’s time for us to follow in the footsteps of the NBA and the Italians and start checking our kids’ hearts too.

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