Basketball Players have the Highest Incidence of Sports-Related Sudden Cardiac Death in the United States
March Madness is an exciting time of year for many. Even for non-basketball fans it’s hard not to join the masses in cheering on an underdog or praying for your alma mater to come out on top. But with all these seemingly healthy basketball players running back and forth on the court, why isn’t there a greater focus on the high risk of sudden cardiac death among basketball players?
According to the National Institutes of Health, the risk among male Division I basketball players has been estimated at MORE THAN 10 TIMES that in the overall athlete population! And a Washington Post article out last year mentions that though only 4 percent of NCAA athletes are basketball players, they represent a FULL 20 PERCENT OF ALL SUDDEN CARDIAC DEATHS.
Most people have heard the heartbreaking story about Hank Gathers, a star basketball player at Loyola Marymount who collapsed on the court during a tournament game in March 1990 and was not able to be revived. The cause of his death was hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the leading cause of sudden cardiac death in young athletes. Just three years later, Boston Celtics star Reggie Lewis suffered sudden cardiac arrest on the basketball court, his death also attributed to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
These may be high-profile cases, but sudden cardiac arrest in young basketball players has been in the news for a long time. Less than a year ago, UL-Lafayette recruit Herman Williams died of HCM playing basketball, and University of Dayton’s Steve McElvene died at home, also from HCM. Recently, five high school basketball players from various states suffered sudden cardiac arrest and were saved through CPR and AED use, including Malik Allen, who missed his appointment to get his heart tested and suffered cardiac arrest just four months later.
With the tournament beginning this week, it’s hard not to think about how many players will be taking the court with an undiagnosed heart condition that could cause sudden cardiac arrest, or worse, death.
Don’t wait to get your students tested. Their lives may depend on it.