Advocating for Youth Heart Screenings
Last updated: June 2023
Many people don’t realize they have heart disease until it's too late. Also, most people don’t know that young people can have heart disease. The only reason I am familiar with different heart conditions is because I've been affected by them.
Heart screenings for young athletes
I was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy at 25, but a diagnosis can happen at any age, even as an infant. My mom was reading an article after my diagnosis about this couple who had triplets. The triplets all were diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy when they were infants.
The reason I believe that young athletes should be getting screened is because they can prevent so many deaths in young people. As a former athlete, I have been fortunate enough to see how heart screenings can save lives. My cousin also has hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
Even though I didn’t get an actual screening until I was an adult, they can change the lives of young athletes. I became an athlete when I was a child after my parents had me enrolled in our local tee ball league. Soccer, track, tennis, volleyball, and basketball followed.
Undiagnosed heart conditions in young people
It wasn’t until I was running track in middle school and high school that I realized there was a problem. I was a sprinter and after my races, I would start wheezing uncontrollably. The best way I could describe it is that there was no more air and I couldn’t catch my breath. When high school started, I went to see a doctor and they conducted an allergy test and a breathing test. In the end, they concluded that it was exercise-induced asthma causing me these problems.
I was prescribed an asthma pump that I had to use before practice. After high school, I was recruited to run NCAA track and field and things with my exercise-induced asthma remained the same throughout college.
I was doing my health screening for a job when I was first told something surprising about my heart. They said that my chest X-ray had come back abnormal and that my heart was enlarged. I told my doctors and they signed off for me without doing the due diligence of finding out why my heart was enlarged. I had been otherwise healthy my whole life they declined to investigate it. This would be something I would learn to regret when I started my heart journey.
It wasn’t until I had my first stroke that they found that my ejection fraction was 10% and I found out the chest X-ray was correct. I was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy in 2014. This meant that if the doctors and I had been more inquisitive a year earlier, my stroke could’ve been prevented.
The significance of family history
It's a good idea to know your own family history when it comes to diseases. My paternal grandfather had a series of strokes and heart attacks in his lifetime and his siblings had the same issues with heart disease. If you know people in your family have heart conditions, it's a good idea to get screenings and pursue the proper preventable care.
I wish that Congress would intervene and make it necessary for insurance to cover heart screenings for young people wanting to do sports. I advocate for young athletes in high school and college to be screened for heart conditions here in America. So many deaths can be prevented in our youth if these heart screenings were made more readily available.
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