Now that there is also Say­mar Ram­say

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION&COMMENTARY -

IT WAS merely six weeks ago that Ja­maica was swept up in the grief of the on-field col­lapse and sud­den death of 17-year-old St Ge­orge’s Col­lege foot­baller Do­minic James. He was the team’s star and cap­tain, who ap­par­ently also did well at his aca­demic work at one of Ja­maica’s more pres­ti­gious high schools.

Not too much is known about, or has been made of, Say­mar Ram­say. He at­tended Spot Val­ley High School in St James, where a third of stu­dents don’t at­tend reg­u­larly, the ma­jor­ity of them en­ter with­out the ap­pro­pri­ate readi­ness for sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion, and up to 80 per cent leave, ac­cord­ing to ed­u­ca­tion min­istry anal­y­sis, with­out at­tain­ing “the ex­pected lev­els in their lit­er­acy skill de­vel­op­ment by grade 11”; although some make “sat­is­fac­tory abil­itylevel progress in their lessons”.

But Do­minic James and Say­mar Ram­say had some­thing in com­mon: Both were 17. Both played sport – in Say­mar’s case, bas­ket­ball. Both met un­ex­pect­edly tragic deaths when they would nor­mally be pre­sumed to be in the pink of health as stu­dent ath­letes. Last Fri­day, re­turn­ing from an Un­der-19 bas­ket­ball match at Corn­wall Col­lege in Mon­tego Bay, Say­mar col­lapsed. He died later while be­ing treated.

Do­minic and Say­mar are be­lieved to have suf­fered from heart attacks, or heart-re­lated con­di­tions.

Both, at the time of death, were par­tic­i­pat­ing in com­pe­ti­tions spon­sored by the In­terSe­condary Schools Sports As­so­ci­a­tion (ISSA).

Such deaths do hap­pen. And as we said at the time of Do­minic James’ pass­ing, oth­ers will oc­cur. The ques­tion we posited at the time was what is be­ing done to re­duce their like­li­hood, apart from im­prov­ing the emer­gen­cyre­sponse ca­pac­ity at venues where or­gan­ised sport­ing com­pe­ti­tions are played.

This news­pa­per has not heard a co­gent or sat­is­fac­tory re­sponse from ei­ther ISSA or the ed­u­ca­tion min­istry, which is not to claim that one has not been at­tempted or that these bod­ies don’t have em­bry­onic ideas which are yet to be fully for­mu­lated and rolled out.

The mat­ter, how­ever, is im­por­tant, given the vol­ume of or­gan­ised school-level sport that is played in Ja­maica, es­pe­cially foot­ball and track and field ath­let­ics. In­deed, the school sys­tem is the foun­da­tion of Ja­maica’s global prow­ess in ath­let­ics and, per­haps, in no other coun­try is com­pe­ti­tion at that level as fiercely com­pet­i­tive and as or­gan­ised as here.

SCREEN­ING NEEDED

It is against that back­drop that we re­it­er­ate our ear­lier calls for the screen­ing of young ath­letes, es­pe­cially those who en­gage in or­gan­ised sports, for con­gen­i­tal or other con­di­tions that might be ex­ac­er­bated by in­tense phys­i­cal ex­er­cise.

There are no known for­mal stud­ies of the ra­tio of sud­den death to par­tic­i­pants of young Ja­maican ath­letes. In the USA, it’s be­tween 0.5 to one per 100,000 ath­letes un­der 35. Such deaths are two and a half times more likely with chil­dren who play sports than nonath­letes. Heart con­di­tions are the ma­jor causes of these deaths.

How­ever, in coun­tries where the screen­ing of young ath­letes in or­gan­ised sport is manda­tory, the deaths are sub­stan­tially lower than in the US. Some Amer­i­can states are mov­ing to make screen­ing manda­tory.

Ja­maica ought to be think­ing along such lines, an is­sue that was put on the agenda when a 17-year cross-coun­try run­ner, Ka­man McKen­zie, com­pet­ing for St Jago High School, died af­ter an event in Trinidad and Tobago. In the ab­sence of leg­is­la­tion, the Heart Foun­da­tion of­fered to work with schools on the mat­ter. Cost, we are told, made the pro­gramme pro­hib­i­tive.

But what price is life?

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