Let's proactively protect the health of teenage athletes

Saturday, June 24, 2017

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Jamaica has had more than its fair share of sudden death among teenage student athletes in recent years.

Just as a quick reminder: In February of 2014, Mr Cavahn McKenzie, 18 years old of St Jago High School, died while being rushed to hospital in Tobago after competing in a six kilometre run for juniors.

Then five months later, in late July of 2014, Mr Rushane Ricketts, 17, of Seaview Gardens, who was aspiring to join Jamaica College as a student/footballer died at a pre-season training camp at St Elizabeth Technical High School in Santa Cruz. Word at the time was that Mr Ricketts and other campers had just completed a road run and were resting in the stands when he collapsed. He was taken to a nearby medical complex where he was pronounced dead.

Then in September of 2016 there was the much-publicised case of St George's College footballer, 18-year-old Mr Dominic James. Two minutes into a football game against Excelsior High School, Mr James collapsed. He was rushed to hospital; 43 minutes later, word came that he had died.

Just two months later, in November of 2016, 17-year-old basketballer Mr Saymar Ramsay, of Spot Valley High, died after a game against Cornwall College. It was reported at the time that the teenager was on his way home following the game when he collapsed. He was pronounced dead on being taken to a medical facility.

All four deaths were believed to be the result of cardiac failure, although we are aware that in at least one case, that of Mr McKenzie, an autopsy is said to have been inconclusive.

It's against all that backdrop that this newspaper welcomes news of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Workshop, hosted by the Heart Foundation of Jamaica, in Kingston this week.

We are told that the event was attended by sports administrators, umpires, referees, officials, and athletes, among others, and that topics included cause of sudden cardiac arrest and ways to prevent it; sudden cardiac arrest in sports globally; the effects of energy drinks and supplements on the heart; and the pressure faced by adolescents to compete in sports.

Health minister, Dr Christopher Tufton's reported support for health screening of student athletes and commitment for his ministry to work with the Heart Foundation of Jamaica and various sporting groups in this regard is encouraging.

We think the timing of the workshop just as school leaders and coaches are preparing to step up physical training of student footballers ahead of the highly popular schoolboy football season in September is very appropriate.

Given the sorrow of the recent past, we believe that all stakeholders, not least school leaders and coaches, should appreciate the absolute importance of proactively seeking to minimise cases of sudden cardiac arrest among teenagers.




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