Laptop Save Student From Dropping Dead

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HOUSTON – Heart tests done with a laptop computer and software that cost $4,000 may help save high school athletes from sudden cardiac death, according to a study of 2,057 students in Texas.

Each year, about 300 U.S. high school and college players die suddenly from heart conditions, said Anthony Magalski, a professor of medicine at the University of Missouri in Kansas City. The Texas research used laptops to perform electrocardiograms that identified 11 students with ailments that were dangerous enough to keep them from playing sports, the researchers said.

Overall, sports trainers at 10 Houston high schools found abnormal readings for 186 athletes, including three with “serious cardiac conditions.” The finding was reported today at the American Heart Association meeting in Orlando, Florida.

“Screening with an EKG, if done the right way, is beneficial,” said Magalski, author of related research reported in March at an American College of Cardiology conference. “The question is the logistics and the cost and the further testing that’s required because the EKG is just a screening tool.”

In the Houston study, data was sent to a cardiologist who found three students with “serious cardiac conditions” that were previously undiagnosed. This including a narrowing of the aorta and a heart muscle that was abnormally enlarged, thick or stiff, according to the heart association statement.

The study was led by Thomas DeBauche, a doctor at Cypress Cardiology in Cypress, Texas.

Hearts Risks

Seventeen students in the study had mitral valve prolapse, meaning the valve between the upper and lower chambers of the heart didn’t close properly. Six were diagnosed with high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs, which makes the heart work harder than normal, the researchers found. Two athletes had defects in aortic valves.

Electrocardiograms, or EKGs, can determine if the heart has abnormalities such as chamber walls that are too thick. Screening for defects can enable athletes to take measures to minimize the risk that sports play will aggravate aberrations.

Screening has generated debate because some athletes have abnormal EKG test results caused by workouts. Some doctors discount the EKGs and others say the screening isn’t cost effective.

An individual EKG costs between $25 and $50, Magalski said, while a follow-up echocardiogram costs up to $600.

The Texas researchers said laptop equipment could be provided to school districts for about $500, according to a statement from the heart association. DeBauche declined to comment in advance of the research presentation.

The issue of heart risks for student athletes gained national prominence in March 1990 when Hank Gathers, a 23-year- old basketball player, collapsed during a game at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.