'Screening numbers low'
The Heart Foundation of Jamaica Executive Director Deborah Chen says she is concerned about the few schools that have visited its facilities to have sudden cardiac arrest screening exercises done on student-athletes ahead of what she describes as their lengthy sports seasons.
Chen, who was a guest at The Gleaner Editors' Forum on Friday, said that only a "handful" of schools in the Corporate Area had sent athletes to the foundation for screening examinations. She added that among these schools, some did not send the full complement of their squads to be checked.
"In screening these students, you may have a team that is selective in the groups that they send," Chen said. "For instance, there is a football squad of 40 students and it has the reserves in it. Some schools take the ones that are going to play, and those who aren't - who are in the reserves - are not screened.
Chen said that those reserve players may be used at another point in the season, especially to replace injured players, which increases their risk of a dangerous incident occurring. She added that it is a bad approach to take as those reserve players also train as often as the regulars and an attack could happen during one of those sessions.
"Screening is too crucial to neglect as cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in Jamaica," she said. "A sudden cardiac arrest can happen to anyone. We must not assume that it is only the person who collapses on the field. A physical examination and an ECG (electrocardiogram - a test that checks for problems with the electrical activity of the heart) can pick up 90 per cent of problems associated with cardiovascular disease."
Chen said that in some instances, the schools have covered the first-level screening fee of $2,500 for athletes, but many others do not get screenings because their parents do not provide the funds needed.
"The appeal is also to the parents because that is such a small investment when you can save your child's life," she said. "The fact is that more of the parents, principals and coaches need to be convinced of the need for the screening of their athletes."
However, Calabar High School principal and Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association executive committee member, Albert Corcho, believes that Chen needs to take a more objective view of the situation.
He said that all student-athletes at his school have done sudden cardiac arrest screening examinations, but he would not say at which facility. He added that because many schools have not gone in to the Heart Foundation of Jamaica for checks, it does not mean they have not done it at other medical facilities. As such, he said that it was difficult to make a broad judgement of the situation at each school that has athletes competing in various sporting activities.