What you don't know can kill you.
Doug Meyer learned at age 15 he had a heart condition, one that could kill him should he overexert himself. A South Ripley High School athlete, he learned this through a routine sports physical when his blood pressure showed up much higher than the previous years. After several tests, he was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle and best known as the cause of sudden cardiac death in young athletes.
It's not as rare as it sounds. A Michigan teenage athlete collapsed on the basketball court two years ago and died of it. The tragedy got lots of publicity, which was beneficial because it increased awareness of this silent killer. However, new research suggests death from cardiac arrest in younger athletes may be occurring more often than previously thought: It's actually the leading cause of death in young athletes today, according to research from Sport Safety International.
Meyer also added the Michigan fatality, "Triggered us to go forward with a foundation for cardiac screenings. That week there were news headlines of five kids that died. I've learned though that thousands die every year from various heart conditions," the 34-year-old said from his home in Greenwood. As a result of his diagnosis, Meyer changed the focus of his athletic pursuits and ended up with a golfing scholarship. He did play varsity basketball but remained conscious of how he felt physically because of his condition. He continues that practice today with any activity he conducts. "But if I had not known, who knows, I may have been the story on the news," he said.
The past two years, the Meyers have developed a cardiac screening organization called Giving Hearts a Hand, with the idea to fund the screenings of young athletes. It was launched last May, and the couple started visiting high schools to spread the word and help financially with screenings.
Recently, with the added sponsorship of Margaret Mary Health, Christ Hospital and the Ripley County Community Foundation, they had 33 young athletes screened at South Ripley High School and gave 122 vouchers (for free screenings) at two other Indiana schools. A donation from the Emily Mathes family also helped. Emily was a S. Ripley student athlete who died from an ATV accident last May. Meyer would love to see all of the Ripley County schools participate in some way.
Dr. Santosh Menon, a cardiologist with Ohio Heart and Vascular Center at Christ Hospital, helped conduct the EKG and ECHO screenings at the high school. Research indicates 1 in a 100 will have this condition.
Margaret Mary Health verified that two of the student athletes had been referred for additional evaluation for their EKG tests because of electrical activity for their heart. Dr. Menon had evaluated the echocardiograms, and they all checked out ok.
Dr. Menon commended Meyer's charitable organization, calling it "a great thing!" From his experience, he is concerned that people opt out of the screening because of the cost or because they are afraid of losing out on potential dollars from a star athlete. A negative cardiac report like this would end a career, and it could also mean rejection from insurance companies, Menon noted. Nonetheless, he feels it could save a life.
There is a hereditary factor, and Menon advises those in particular to get screened. He commends the Meyers and hospitals for helping reduce the financial burden. The cost of such screenings can be a couple of hundred dollars.
Doug Meyer and his wife Cortney, both 1997 S. Ripley graduates, are happy to focus efforts on spreading the word and provide screenings through the heart organization. While they didn't detect any abnormalities with the local students, he commented, "Ideally you hope not to find any" but the message is to at least look for it.
"My goal is for it to be part of the routine sports physical, but I know cost is a factor. So maybe we can find other ways to fund it," to reduce the cost, Meyer said. (Meyer is also the son of SR principal Bob Meyer.)
Donations are accepted through their organization. Go to the website at www.givingheartsahand.org, and there is also a mail address listed as well.