Experts say half of all cardiovascular deaths are sudden cardiac deaths and young athletes may be at risk and not even know it.
Kevin Bondar can’t ever remember a time when he wasn’t swinging a tennis racquet.
“I grew up in a tennis family, my dad and mom actually met on the tennis court,” Bondar said.
At 13, Bondar started having chest pain when he played. Doctors found out tissue in his heart was too thick.
“I was scared after that appointment,” Bondar said.
Officially known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, it’s the most common cause of sudden cardiac death in young athletes.
“Fifty percent of sudden cardiac deaths are first cardiac events meaning the patient did not know they had heart disease,” Dr. Robert J. Myerburd, at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said. “Many of the athletes who die suddenly have underlying causes that are genetic in nature.”
Myerburg opened a clinic to spot any heart defects that may be lurking in college athletes.
“One is screening, that’s the EKG, looking for those kids that we had no idea that there might be something wrong,” Myerburg said.
The clinic also follows young people who know they have heart problems as well as kids who start having problems when they’re working out, like Bondar.
“Talking about risk versus benefit, this is the risk you’re taking, do you want to take the risk?” Myerburg questioned.
Bondar’s fear that he’d never be able to play tennis again never happened. After being treated with beta blockers, he continued his collegiate varsity career.
“I trust the care that I’m under, I trust the medication that I’m on, and I know my limits at this point,” Bondar said. “I think the screening might not bring you the results that you want to hear but results that you need to hear.”
Bondar still plays tennis every day and is planning to go to medical school this fall.
Myerburg says more college athletes are being screened now, but there is a push for more screening in high schools.He is working with other doctors to set up a center that can funnel EKG results to schools in rural areas.