Currently, in schools and colleges in the UK there is resurgence in the importance of screening children for possible health related problems, such as Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome (SADS). Whilst heart conditions in children, believed to be caused by an enlarged heart muscle known as cardiomyopathy, are relatively rare, recent research in the UK now states that they are claiming the lives of four people every week. Symptoms can remain hidden but shortness of breath, pain on exertion and palpitations are some of the tell-tale signs.
When a young person is diagnosed as being ´at risk´, drugs can be used to reduce the chances of sudden death but the condition remains incurable. As playing sport may dramatically increase the risk of death because of the sudden strain put on the defective muscle, screening for this illness should be of paramount importance. With this in mind, electrocardiogram testing has now been added to the Fitness Screening which all students on the Sports Curriculum now undertake at Mayfair International Academy.
For some young athletes, including Everton football prodigy John Marshall, just 16 and Tottenham Hotspur trainee, Jason Erics, 17, it is lamentable to think that a simple heart monitoring test may have saved their lives. Victims of SADS usually die quietly in their sleep as was the case of David Buck, a keen cyclist who played rugby for his county and died aged 37, Joanne Fotheringham a 24 year old graduate, 21 year old Caroline Lucas and 17 year old A Level student, Joanna Viles. These victims all appeared healthy and there were no symptoms or concept that anything was wrong.
The issue of SADS was recently raised in Mayfair at the start of the Autumn Term when an eleven year old boy collapsed with chest pains and difficulty in breathing. One of the Academy´s First Aiders was quickly on the scene and a medical team with a mobile electrocardiogram was called. As the boys heartbeat was very irregular, he was taken to hospital where he was kept in under observation but allowed home the following day. Although the pupil recovered quickly and was back in school the following week, it underlined the importance of a screening programme.
For students embarking on a sports curriculum, it is interesting to note that the conclusion from a large number of studies of sudden death occurring during exercise has shown that virtually all persons who die suddenly during exercise have a serious disease, usually of the heart, that adequately explains the cause of death. In sportsmen under the age of forty there is also the likelihood of severe coronary artery disease as a result of inherited high level of blood cholesterol. But the most important point is that these conditions are NOT caused by exercise, however vigorous! On the contrary, the evidence is clear that regular exercise acts against the development especially of coronary atherosclerosis.
It must be remembered that exercise can provide multiple cardiovascular benefits and the message is that unequivocally, the benefits of a physically active lifestyle in terms of many health outcomes, including the frequency of all cardiovascular events, clearly outweigh the small risks. However, personnel involved with sports should be able to recognize cardiac symptoms and be certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
Emergency Life Support (ELS) techniques including cardio pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is taught as part of the Sports Curriculum at Mayfair Academy and all students from year 10 upwards are capable and confident in the use of ELS and other first aid techniques. Mayfair is affiliated to Heartstart UK and, with two instructors delivering the course to both students and teachers and some teachers already trained in ELS, parents can rest assured that their children are looked after by staff who have life-saving skills.