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Preventing Sudden Death in Nevada Athletes

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Emily Burns knew from a young age, she wanted to play basketball. "I asked 'hey, can I go to a basketball camp' and ever since then it's just been something I've been in love with."

Nevada wasn't only the perfect choice for Emily, it was also one of the safest in the country. That's because every Nevada athlete is checked for a potentially deadly heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Dr. Colin Fuller is with Northern Nevada Medical Center. "They don't give symptoms until you die on the playing field. And secondly, athletes want to play and even though they may have some warning symptoms they don't want to tell their doctor about them and be held out from sports."

So to take the guess work out of it, an EKG is now a part of the pre-participation physical needed to play at Nevada. And it's already proving to save lives. In the past five years, 64 kids were given a second, more thorough work up. "Of those 64 that had electrocardiograms, looking for hypertrophic cardiomyopathies, the most common cause of sudden cardiac death on the playing field, we found two of them that had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Both had to be pulled back from sports. One of them ended up with an automatic internal cardiac defibrillator."

For such a life saving screening, you'd think it would be common place at every university. But Nevada is leading the nation with this practice. Dr. Carol Scott is the Nevada team doctor. "Because of Dr. Fuller, we've been able to start our program earlier than most places."

Since 2008, Drs. Fuller and Scott at the university have been collecting EKG data on nearly 180 students a year that are given this screening. The results are expected to be published soon. "We've done a good study. I think we have good results. I think it will be impressive and speak well for Nevada."

As for Emily, it means one less thing to worry about so she can focus on shooting baskets and working toward becoming a physical therapist.

Written By Wendy Damonte
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