While serving as the athletic training student aide with the wrestling team, I have come to realize that our athletes have the potential to experience an injury or emergency situation on any given day or practice. One of these very real threats is Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA). The athletic trainers at my school have standard policies and procedures that they follow to ensure the safety of their athletes in SCA situations. According to the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA), SCA is the leading cause of death in young athletes.
Most students would not expect this to be the case given their age and general good health. It’s important for all of us to be more aware of this condition, to recognize the symptoms and make sure the appropriate procedures are followed to increase the chance of survival.
Sudden Cardiac Arrest is not the same as a heart attack. A heart attack occurs when the flow of blood to the heart muscle is shut off. Despite the fact that people with heart disease are more susceptible to SCA, they are simply not the same. SCA can occur in people who appear to be healthy and who do not have any heart disease history. Therefore, this traumatic event is unpredictable.
However, it can be recognized just through a few symptoms. Some people, prior to experiencing SCA, can have a rapid heartbeat and chest pains. According to the American Heart Association, when a person is suffering from SCA, there is typically a sudden loss of consciousness and at the same time no pulse can be detected.
When someone is suspected to be experiencing Sudden Cardiac Arrest, it’s vital to follow certain steps and alert the appropriate member of your school’s athletic health care team so that immediate application of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) can be initiated and increase the risk of survival. NATA recommends that there is a targeted goal of 3-5 minutes for the first shock to be delivered by an Automated External Defibrillator (AED). Know if your school has an AED, where it is and how to use it. Precious seconds can make the difference between life and death. If these procedures and an immediate 911 call are placed, athletes can survive SCA.
It is a good idea to check with your athletic trainer and athletic department to see if there are policies and procedures in place to address this potentially life-threatening situation. If not, you should encourage your school administration to create an emergency action plan, which will help ensure clear and consistent communication and health care teamwork — and all designed to reduce injury and save lives.
Josh Strom is a student at Penn Trafford High School writing for Channel One in cooperation with the National Athletic Trainers’ Association. Students from Penn Trafford will contribute to our blog from time to time on issues student athletes face.