I-Team: Cardiac arrest striking down student athletes - WNEM TV 5

I-Team: Cardiac arrest striking down student athletes

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(Source: WNEM) (Source: WNEM)

Under intense pressure to perform, student athletes often push themselves to the limit in order to live up to the expectations of others and themselves. Each year, some collapse and die because they literally don't have the heart for the sport. 

These potential health issues easily fall through the cracks. 

“You never know when it’s going to happen, even if you are perfectly healthy like I was," Maverick Giles said. 

Giles, 16, nearly died after collapsing on the baseline during basketball practice in December.

Now watching from the sideline instead of playing, he’s one of the lucky ones. One thousand kids die every year when they are suddenly and mysteriously struck down, often while playing competitive sports.

Wes Leonard was one of them. His story was told nationally after he died during a high school basketball game in Grand Rapids.

Coach Dan Nealy saved the day for Giles, administering CPR with an assist from an Automated External Defibrillator.

“You need to be prepared and have a plan basically. And if you do those things you could save a life if it came down to it,” Nealy said.

Sudden cardiac arrest, also known as SCA, is a malfunction of the heart. Sometimes an electrical defect. It’s different than a heart attack which results from a blocked artery.

The warning signs can be similar, chest pain, fatigue, fainting, shortness of breath. Sometimes, as in Maverick’s case, there were no warning signs.  A scary thought for any parent.

“I just kept praying basically for God not to take him from me,” said his mother Carla Giles.

Before every sports season, student athletes in Michigan are required to visit their doctor for a basic health screening. The doctor checks their heart with a stethoscope, but no in-depth heart tests are required.

The I-Team wanted to know if any kind of medical test could red flag the risk to seemingly healthy young people. Should officials require more extensive heart tests before our kids get in the game?

“You wonder if there’s something else that could be done, asked, or another exam that the kids need to take to participate. I don’t know,” Nealy said.

So TV5 went to the MHSAA headquarters in East Lansing to see if medical requirements allowing your child to play high school ball should be boosted.

“Probably not. Because there have been others that have gone down that road with that kind of advanced heart screening for all athletes and found out that it isn’t very effective. Either from a cost standpoint or from what it catches standpoint,” said MHSAA spokesperson John Johnson.

In fact, the I-Team discovered that not a single U.S. state requires heart testing for student athletes.

Doctor Hani Zriek is a pediatric cardiologist, he believes the MHSAA is doing enough for the safety of its athletes.

“I think this organization, the MHSAA, is doing a very good job. And it’s following with schools all around Michigan and providing guidelines to the schools in Michigan on CPR, on the availability of AED’s.”

But Zriek said if your child is experiencing chest pain, fatigue, fainting or shortness of breath during exercise, you as a parent may want to explore heart tests like an EKG or echocardiogram. The out-of-pocket cost is about $200.

“Even if the EKG didn’t show anything, or the echocardiogram didn’t show anything, maybe you want to pursue it a little bit further. Maybe do genetic testing or a stress test to try and trigger the electric abnormality that you may then see with an EKG.”

Beware, Zriek tells us a relentless battery of tests may not catch everything. Even after a child has been given the all-clear, he or she may still be a ticking time bomb.

“Those are the most stressful situations, the hardest situations to deal with. Because we don’t have any information what really happened and how to prevent that again from happening.”

Doctors are still trying to figure out exactly what triggered Giles’ near tragedy. It’s unclear if he will play competitively again. But he is certain the actions of his coach saved the day when his moment of need was greatest.

“It’s an indescribable thing, that connection that we have. It’s more than a friendship because he saved my life and I just can’t grasp what it means to have him in my life now.”

One things Giles does know is that he wants to see AEDs in every high school sports arena. After all, it was the AED, teaming up with a coach who was cool under immense pressure, that allowed him to survive and advance.

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