Thu | Jan 23, 2020

Medical team turns spotlight on student athletes

Published:Tuesday | September 10, 2019 | 12:17 AMRuddy Mathison/Gleaner Writer
Help Jamaica Medical Mission president Dr Robert Clarke (centre) in discussion with leading cardiologist Dr Sunil Patel (left) and Norma Russell, chief liaison officer for the mission in Jamaica, during a screening of student athletes at St Jago High School, St Catherine, last Friday.
Help Jamaica Medical Mission president Dr Robert Clarke (centre) in discussion with leading cardiologist Dr Sunil Patel (left) and Norma Russell, chief liaison officer for the mission in Jamaica, during a screening of student athletes at St Jago High School, St Catherine, last Friday.

As Help Jamaica Medical Mission from the United States (US) turns its focus to high schools and colleges in Jamaica, athletes from St Jago High School and the G.C. Foster College of Physical Education and Sport in Spanish Town, St Catherine, underwent comprehensive screening for congenital heart diseases last Friday and Saturday.

Help Jamaica Medical Mission, founded nine years ago in New Jersey, US, to give back to Jamaica, has provided free cardiac screening and treatment to thousands of Jamaicans over the period that it has been associated with the island. President of the organisation US-based Jamaica-born cardiologist Dr Robert Clarke told The Gleaner that the group has turned its focus to high schools and colleges in light of the increasing numbers of student athletes collapsing in Jamaica.

“This is our pilot project, and we intend to make it an annual event to screen students around Jamaica for any type of congenital heart diseases that may or may not be found among athletes in our schools,” Clarke said after he and leading United States world- renowned cardiologist Dr Sunil Patel screened dozens of student athletes at both St Jago High School and the G.C. Foster College.

Early treatment critical

“From our work so far, we have seen evidence of congenital heart diseases among our student athletes so we are trying to catch these diseases from early and start treatment so the lives of many of our athletes can be saved,” Clarke noted.

According to Clarke, congenital heart diseases are asymptomatic, and students athletes are often not aware of such conditions until it is too late, when they are in competition or doing aggressive training and they suddenly collapse and die.

“Not everybody can afford these check-ups because they are very costly, so we, in Help Jamaica Medical Mission, recognised that there is a need, hence we came up with the project to screen student athletes and start treatment where necessary,” Clarke said.

In addition to the athletes, more than 200 residents from St Catherine communities received free medical check-ups, including cardiac and eye screenings, at the G.C. Foster College on Saturday as the Help Jamaica team partnered with Western Union and Caribbean Choice to stage a health fair for residents of the parish.

Chief liaison officer for the Help Jamaica Medical Mission St Catherine businesswoman Norma Russell said that the idea of inviting Clarke and Patel, both of whom are attached to the Robert Wood Medical School in New Jersey, US, to focus on these students athletes came out of a deep concern for their health.

“It is not just a public-relations initiative, it has to do with the health of our student athletes who are going on to bring glory to Jamaica. We have to take into consideration our position in the world in the field of athletics and not only maintain it but provide the kind of healthcare for our athletes so this can be achieved,” Russell stated.

A past student of St Jago High School, Russell disclosed that the project started because of the school’s proclivity for producing world-standard athletes over the years and the G.C. Foster College of Physical Education and Sports’ reputation as the leading sports college in the Caribbean.

rural@gleanerjm.com