High School Athletes Undergo Improved Physicals: Recent Incidents at Local High Schools a Wake-Up

Tarice Sims- David Parker was a 17-year-old basketball player for Shaw High School in East Cleveland. He was pretty healthy but unlike most of the other high school athletes Parker had an enlarged heart, a condition that apparently had not been detected. And in February of 1999 during a game against Euclid High School Parker collapsed on the court and died. George Smith who is now the schools Athletic Director was at the game and says Parker's death was a wake up call for everyone.

George Smith- What I think happened after David's death was that every school system and every parent who has a child on the court or track or whatever was going to make sure that their son or daughter got a physical exam.

Barry Maron- Most people are aware of them and are concerned about the possibility that diseases may be missed.

TS- Dr. Barry Maron is with the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation. He authored a national study in June of 1998 encouraging parents and students in high school sports to take physicals seriously.

BM- I think the reason the process isn't any farther along than it is probably has to do with a lot of factors and probably little to do with the doctors that are involved probably has more to do with the bureaucratic super structure that hasn't placed this as a very high priority.

TS- The Ohio High School Athletic Association requires that all high school athletes get yearly physicals. Schools must have the information on file before students can even practice with any sports team. The physical exam card asks about the athletes physical history, disease illness, hospital stay but it does not ask about the family history. Dr. Kenneth Zahka is Director of Pediatric Cardiology at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital. He says when it comes to detecting heart conditions you need more information to save lives.

Kenneth Zahka- It's surprising that sometimes if you ask the right questions of a family you can find out that there have been other family members who maybe who haven't had sudden death but who have had clues that something could be going on.

TS- Not all schools take the extra time to find out about the athlete's family history because it is not required by the state. According to Dr. Maron's study, only 1 in 20,000 high school athletes die because of heart conditions each year. The National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury also found that 10 athletes have died this year, three in Ohio. Parents of athletes recently have begun to pepper Dr. Zahka with questions about the health of their child's heart.

KZ- Are these children dying because of sport or because of their heart problem is certainly a very very important question and one which we think is probably related that we do have to think that in young people who have some kind of heart problem that the stress of competitive sports is in fact enough to cause heart rhythm problems or heart function problems which ordinarily with normal everyday activity would not be an issue.

TS- The primary concern has centered around extra curricular sports but within every high school, a normal day probably includes physical education or PE classes. There hasn't been any recent reports of heart attacks happening in gym class. A spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Education says physicals are not required because there's a "lack of intensity". Shaw Athletic Director George Smith it's a policy the system may want to change.

GS- I really don't believe that a kid that takes physical education class have to have a physical exam. I'm much older than you but I didn't have to take one and I don't believe that's changed over the years I really don't have a rationale and maybe that is something that the state will address. I know that there would probably be a large economic factor to have every student in the phys ed. program given a physical but in light of the recent it would probably be something that they would want to address.

TS- Most high school leagues in Northeast Ohio say there must be a doctor or trainer at all games. Some schools are now looking into buying a machine called an Automatic External Difibulator, or AED, which gives an electric shock to revive someone in cardiac arrest. A basic unit AED machine cost roughly $3,500. Other schools are considering buying EKG machines to test for heart defects. According to Smith, the East Cleveland School system is looking into purchasing the AED machine to be used in every school. He says the cost is justified if it saves a life. In Cleveland, Tarice Sims, 90.3 FM.

Support Provided By