OR School Activities Association: How to prepare for cardiac arrests among young athletes
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OR School Activities Association: How to prepare for cardiac arrests among young athletes

Sep 06, 2023

A football on the field in a KOIN 6 Blitz game, September 10, 2021 (KOIN)

“It's a known risk, but it's still really, really rare."

by: Jashayla Pettigrew

Posted: Aug 30, 2023 / 04:33 PM PDT

Updated: Aug 30, 2023 / 04:33 PM PDT

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — After two young, high-profile athletes suffered cardiac arrests this year, many players and parents are wondering what causes them as well as how common they are.

Ahead of the state’s high school and college football seasons, a sports medicine physician with the Oregon School Activities Associations told KOIN 6 more about this medical phenomena and the best way to prepare for it.

“It’s a known risk, but it’s still really, really rare,” Dr. Michael Koester, chair of OSAA’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, said. “The difficulty in it is that it’s shocking, right? We think about athletes, and we think about ‘healthy’ and we think about ‘nothing’s going to take them down.’”

Koester explained that people typically associate heart problems with the elderly or with those who aren’t in good physical conditions. However, recent stories have shifted this idea.

In January, 25-year-old Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin was transported to the hospital after suffering a cardiac arrest during a game. In July, 18-year-old Bronny James — son of the NBA’s all-time leading scorer Lebron James — suffered a cardiac arrest during basketball practice at the University of Southern California.

While Koester said it’s difficult to determine who will experience cardiac arrest, most states require students to turn in sports physicals for this exact reason. Those physicals include exam points recommended by the American Heart Association, such as fatigue issues, shortness of breath, family history of heart problems, etc.

Still, Koester said screening students for a condition that prohibits them from participating in sports is rare. As experts continue their ongoing research on how best to prevent cardiac arrests from happening, OSAA is encouraging schools to be prepared in case something does occur.

Oregon state law requires schools to have just one defibrillator on campus, but Koester says they should be accessible within just a couple of minutes of any field or practice facility.

He advises parents to ask schools about their emergency action plans, and to fundraise if additional medical devices are needed.

“Unfortunately, [Automated External Defibrillators] aren’t cheap and we really encourage schools to get as many as they need,” he said. “For the price of a couple of football helmets, you can get an AED and it’s important to have as many of those as possible.”

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