Thu | Sep 24, 2020

Editorial | Five years after Cavahn McKenzie

Published:Sunday | February 17, 2019 | 12:00 AM

This month, in a week or so, is five years since Cavahn McKenzie, a St Jago High School middle-distance runner, collapsed and died after a cross-country race in Trinidad and Tobago. Cavahn was 17. He suffered a heart attack

For much of last week, the focus was on Kemoy Campbell, Jamaica’s 3,000 and 5,000 metres record holder, who collapsed while running as a pacemaker at a meet in New York City. He, too, suffered a heart attack.

Happily, Kemoy Campbell survived and, hopefully, will make full recovery, to lead a long and full life. Though only 28, his athletics career is likely to be at an end.

In-between Cavahn and Kemoy, there have been other tragedies on Jamaica’s sport fields, or in circumstances related thereto, that raise questions about the system for checking and protecting the health of the island’s athletes, especially those who are in school. The matter demands urgent attention from Sports Minister Olivia Grange.

Indeed, it was only in January that Jamaica College footballer Rajheme Thompson suffered a stroke. He is in rehabilitation and appears to be recovering.

Dominic James and Saymar Ramsay weren’t so lucky. Both died six weeks apart in 2016. Both were 17.

Dominic, a St George’s College student and their football captain, collapsed on the field during a Manning Cup match. He died on his way to hospital. He had a heart attack. So did Raymar, a student of Spot Valley High School in St James. His death was while on his way back from a basketball game.

The Dominic James’ tragedy, in particular, re-energised a debate that this newspaper had engaged two years earlier, at the time of Cavahn McKenzie’s passing, on the adequacy of medical staff and equipment at sport events, but more important, how much were student athletes being screened for underlying health problems that may be exacerbated by strenuous exercise. The answer then, and now, according to experts quoted by this newspaper, is quite inadequate.


School sport, especially track and field and football, is a big deal in Jamaica. Thousands of children hope to be the next Usain Bolt or Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, or to break through to the European or North American soccer leagues. Most, even those without those high ambitions, place their bodies through enormous stress.

Yet, neither are most of these athletes nor their coaches aware of potential health issues, given the deep insufficiency, and, according to the sports medicine specialist, Dr Akshai Mansingh, the largely poor quality of pre-participation examinations, or PPEs.

“I think as a blanket statement, we know that all athletes should be screened in Jamaica, and we know that they are not being screened: A. at all (or) B. by proper personnel,” said Mansingh.

As inadequate as it may be in too many cases, Dr Paul Wright, who comments on this matter, noted in this newspaper that in Jamaica the “PPE is usually the only time when an athlete has a comprehensive physical examination”. Such exams won’t guarantee the exclusion of tragedies, but will likely limit them.

A comprehensive system for such tests, as we suggested at the time of Cavahn McKenzie’s death, when the Heart Foundation offered to help, will be expensive. In that context, Minister Grange should perhaps seek to work with Mansingh, in his position as dean of the Faculty of Sports at The University of the West Indies, Mona, as well as sporting bodies and institutions, to design, for delivery, high-quality PPEs to all school-age athletes. It could probably fall under an expanded insurance scheme for athletes.

Mansingh’s faculty might also consider doing a study on the prevalence of sport-induced illnesses and death among young athletes in Jamaica and the Caribbean. We suspect that the problem is larger than it appears.