Screen stu­dent ath­letes

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY -

NOTH­ING, PER­HAPS, may have pre­vented Mon­day’s tragic on-field death of St Ge­orge’s Col­lege foot­baller Do­minic James, which has trig­gered an out­pour­ing of grief by school­mates, fel­low young am­a­teur foot­ballers, coaches and sports ad­min­is­tra­tors.

In all like­li­hood, other such un­for­tu­nate in­ci­dents will oc­cur among stu­dent ath­letes. The is­sue, there­fore, is how to make such in­ci­dents as rare as pos­si­ble and what, if any­thing, those who pre­side over or­gan­ised sport are do­ing to en­sure this.

In the af­ter­math of young Do­minic’s death, the fo­cus, un­der­stand­ably, has been on the level of the med­i­cal ex­per­tise at such sport­ing events and the qual­ity of equip­ment avail­able to them. At Mon­day’s match be­tween St Ge­orge’s and Ex­cel­sior, two doc­tors were present, one of whom, Ivory Alexan­der, is physi­cian to the St Ge­orge’s team, but he lamented the ab­sence of oxy­gen and the re­lated re­sus­ci­ta­tion kit at the venue.

The In­ter-Sec­ondary Schools Sports As­so­ci­a­tion (ISSA) does have a med­i­cal pro­to­col for its da Costa Cup and Man­ning Cup com­pe­ti­tions, the lat­ter of which the teams were par­tic­i­pat­ing in. Schools should, at least, have a nurse present at the matches, and games played should be no more than 15 min­utes from a med­i­cal fa­cil­ity. In later rounds, when there are fewer matches and games are un­der the di­rect man­age­ment of ISSA, the as­so­ci­a­tion un­der­takes to have an am­bu­lance on spot.

Given the ex­pense in­volved, Ja­maica’s eco­nomic cir­cum­stances and the range and vol­ume of school-level sports played in the is­land, it is per­haps dif­fi­cult to have med­i­cal per­son­nel and ap­pro­pri­ate kits, in­clud­ing de­fib­ril­la­tors, at all venues for all sports, but it should be a goal of the Gov­ern­ment, the sport­ing as­so­ci­a­tions and par­tic­i­pat­ing schools to have as many as pos­si­ble in the short­est time. A pol­icy for the train­ing re­quired and fi­nanc­ing of such a pro­gramme should be ur­gently es­tab­lished.

How­ever, while be­ing able to treat emer­gen­cies is crit­i­cal, it is just as im­por­tant that there are strate­gies to pre­vent them. And the best way is to have an un­der­stand­ing of which of our young ath­letes may be at risk from con­gen­i­tal prob­lems that may be ex­ac­er­bated by stren­u­ous ex­er­cise.


In the United States, be­tween 0.5 and one per 100,000 young ath­letes be­low the age of 35 dies sud­denly each year. Fur­ther, sud­den deaths are 2.5 times more likely among chil­dren who play sports than non-ath­letes. Most of these deaths re­late to mal­func­tion­ing of the heart. The in­ci­dence of sud­den deaths among young ath­letes is lower, stud­ies sug­gest, in coun­tries like Italy, where there is ag­gres­sive screen­ing. In­deed, some US states, in­clud­ing Texas – where a bill was tabled in the state leg­is­la­ture last year – want to make screen­ing manda­tory.

There are no known stud­ies of this is­sue in Ja­maica, but the is­sue was placed on the agenda two years ago when Kavahn McKen­zie, a 17year-old St Jago High School stu­dent, col­lapsed and died in Trinidad and Tobago af­ter com­pet­ing in a six-kilo­me­tre cross-coun­try race. The Ja­maica Heart Foun­da­tion, at the time, pitched the idea of screen­ing to the ed­u­ca­tion min­istry, ISSA and some high schools, at a pro­posed cost of J$1,000 per screened stu­dent. It ap­peared that ev­ery­one was en­thu­si­as­tic, but fol­low-through from the au­thor­i­ties, it seems, has been poor.

This mat­ter must be ur­gently put back on the agenda.

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