Wednesday 11 May 2011
The case for compulsory screening
While the post mortem results are not yet released it is expected that the cause of death of Kieran Hegarty will be a case of Sudden Adult Death Syndrome (SADS). The first time I heard of this syndrome was in the aftermath of the death of All Ireland winning Tyrone player Cormac McAnnallen back in 2004 when he was in the prime of his career. McAnnallen was a fitness fanatic and led the life of someone serious about performing at the highest levels and his achievements on the playing pitch endorsed that. What McAnnallen didn’t know was that he had a cardiac condition and died in his sleep a couple of hours after completing a gym session. Undetected heart conditions affect about one in 300 people, but one in 1000 will die from (SADS).
Last Tuesday evening Kieran Hegarty finished training with his Club Shamrocks in Cork when he suddenly collapsed in the dressing room, his team mates tried to save him using a defibrillator which was at the club but to no avail as he was pronounced dead at cork University Hospital. Over the past number of years there has been many a debate regarding this issue many arguing that screening be made compulsory in Irish sport, with up to 100 people a year under the age of 35 dying each year from SADES and this latest death will surely open up this debate again.
After the recent completion of a two year programme involving 300 GAA players the GAA’s Medical, Scientific and Welfare Committee have advised the most effective way to identify risk is for players over the age of 14 to undergo cardiac screening on one occasion and again before the age of 25. If it is found that a person has an abnormality doesn’t necessarily mean they have a problem but the other side of that is, if they have a problem for the first time it’s usually too late. In a number of countries cardiac screening is compulsory for people whom are involved in competitive sports but awareness in this country only came to prominence after the high profile death of Cormac McAnnallen.
The Department of health set up a special task force to examine the issue of Sudden Cardiac Death and the recommendation included a much greater provision of defibrillators in communities around ireland. The GAA have been to the forefront in this instance with defibrillators at every county ground in addition to over 1000 defibrillators purchased by Clubs as part of a subsidised scheme set up by the Association. While having a defibrillator on site didn’t save Kieran Hegarty’s life last Tuesday, in a lot of cases it would have, and every GAA club in the country should have one. For cash strapped Clubs the recommendation that every player over 14 should be screened is probably just not possible but clubs could advise parents regarding this issue and give them the opportunity to get it carried out at their own cost or help subsidise the cost to them.
Apparently a number of Clubs looked at this screening process and backed away from it because if any abnormality showed up for an individual it could interfere with that person obtaining Life assurance n the future which would limit their chances of getting a mortgage also. Personally I think I would prefer to know than not to know and I’m sure the families of any individual that has died from SADS would support this. While I think it would be difficult for the GAA as an association to make screening compulsory I do feel however that they could raise this awareness through the club structure and give the clubs the opportunity to raise the awareness with their members and give them the opportunity to carry out the screening at their own cost. At the end of the day what is the cost of saving a life