CHARLOTTE – Carolinas HealthCare System volunteers helped screen more than 2,700 student-athletes at Heart of a Champion Day events in five counties, including Mecklenburg.
Some 556 volunteers flagged 102 students for medical conditions needing further review before they could be cleared for athletic competition, including 30 cardiac issues.
Unlike typical athletic screenings, Heart of a Champion Day includes electrocardiograms to detect genetic heart abnormalities that could lead to sudden cardiac arrest during competition.
Over the program’s 10 years, 19,900 students have been screened and nearly 1,000 students flagged for potential medical issues, including 224 for potential heart abnormalities.
Dr. David Price, medical director of Mecklenburg, recalls cold-calling doctors asking them to participate. Today, he gets calls from volunteers eager to help.
“I truly believe we’ve saved lives,” Price said.
He’s gratified the program reaches underserved populations whose only contact with a medical provider is likely the athletic screening.
“It’s amazing how the day itself unfolds, with 45 to 50 buses arriving over that eight-hour period and some 1,600 students all getting to where they need to be,” said Sue Doran, CMS athletics director.
Jaylen Riley was a rising freshman at Independence High School, when he attended the event in 2014. His screening led to the discovery of a leaking heart valve. The condition was repaired, allowing Jaylen to return to playing football just two months after the procedure.
Jaylen is preparing for his senior year at Independence, with hopes of earning a college football scholarship.
“Just knowing there are extra resources out there that are available to our children, that can really open up doors for them,” said Jaylen’s mom, Nicole Riley. “Just being able to be a part of this program saving my son’s life, it has been nothing short of a blessing.”