Calls to make heart screenings compulsory in sport

22 March 2012

When Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the pitch of White Hart Lane in an FA Cup match between Bolton Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur, a state of shock travelled across the world.

Details of the incident are still coming to light, though doctors who treated the 23-year-old have given some harrowing information regarding the cardiac arrest which was caught live on television.

It has been revealed that Muamba was effectively 'dead' for 78 minutes during his terrifying ordeal, with medics giving his heart 15 electric shocks to get it beating again.

Following this tense battle, the Bolton midfielder has been working his way slowly back to recovery while in intensive care at the London Chest Hospital.

However, the whole situation has reawakened the football world, and sport as a whole, to the issue of heart problems in the game.

Rotherham United manager Andy Scott knows only too well what it is like to go through health issues while on the pitch.

He explained to the Guardian that back in 2005 when he was a Leyton Orient player in a match against Cheltenham, Scott encountered chest pains and pins and needles down one arm.

After coming off the pitch at half-time, the player received treatment and soon learnt that he had suffered from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

"The cardiologist that diagnosed me said that I was under no obligation to tell the football club about my condition but he advised me that every time I stepped on to the pitch there was a chance that it would be the last thing that I did, so it was pretty obvious what the choice was going to be," he explained to the news source.

Following this experience, Scott has gone on to become a patron of the Cardiac Risk in the Young. He also believes that the Muamba incident makes it more important to get the message across about heart problems in sport.

Scott pointed out that "this is another opportunity and how tragic would it be if in a few years' time I'm on the phone to a journalist again talking about someone else who has collapsed on a football pitch".

Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA), was keen to note though that heart screening procedures are well funded in the sport, with many lives already saved due to this strategy.

Furthermore, he explained to Telegraph Sport that the system is mandatory for any young player before they step onto a field, while senior members of a squad can access it under request.

However, Taylor stated: "If clubs are not doing it, this highlights that there is a need to do it. It has always been our message that we're prepared to pay for it. There's an availability and a willingness from our part through the player-welfare fund."

While Muamba's cardiac arrest has caught the attention of many people, it is not the first instance of health problems on the pitch having serious, and sometimes fatal, consequences.

Cameroon's beloved Marc-Vivien Foe collapsed on the pitch while playing a match in the 2003 FIFA Confederations Cup and died shortly after in hospital. An autopsy revealed that hypertrophic cardiomyopathy had been the cause of death.

Sevilla FC supporters were also left in shock when 22-year-old Antonio Puerta collapsed when playing against Getafe C.F in 2007 and died in hospital after several cardiac arrests. This time, the autopsy pinned the death on arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy.

It is not just football which has been impacted by the scenes at White Hart Lane though, with Andy Murray stating that heart screenings are not compulsory for tennis players either.

The British number one told MSN Sport that he conducts tests independently to ensure that he is in good health to go out on court and compete.

But he was keen to stress: "Everyone should have a medical or a check-up before you're allowed to compete because it's such a horrible thing for people to witness."

Posted by Jeanette Royston


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