Heart of a Champion physical exams open to athletes at Fort Mill, Nation Ford high schools

Students at last year’s Heart of a Champion event get their blood pressure checked, just one of a number of cardio tests given to them.
Students at last year’s Heart of a Champion event get their blood pressure checked, just one of a number of cardio tests given to them.

Carolinas HealthCare System is holding online sign-ups for its annual Heart of a Champion physicals through Friday for athletes at Fort Mill and Nation Ford high schools.

The event is May 9 at the Carolinas Medical Center-Fort Mill Medical Plaza near the intersection of Gold Hill Road and Interstate 77.

The one-hour exam includes cardio and orthopedic screenings that are more in depth than a normal sports physical.

“No child in the state is getting a physical like this,” said Fort Mill High athletic director Dwayne Hartsoe. “And it’s free.” The estimated value of the screening if done independently through doctors’ offices is between $1,500 and $2,000, Hartsoe said.

The physicals are all about giving parents, coaches and administrators peace of mind, knowing their young athletes have been given an intense screening designed to detect potential heart problems and other medical issues.

This is the fifth year Carolinas HealthCare System has partnered with Fort Mill schools to offer the free physicals. Carolinas HealthCare also offers the physicals to students at high schools in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Lincoln and Union counties in North Carolina.

Last year, 524 students from Fort Mill and Nation Ford high schools had the Heart of Champion physicals. Thirty-three students were “red flagged” for possible medical issues, 12 of them orthopedic and eight cardiac.

Dr. Brian Pope, of Shiland Family Medicine and the medical director for the Fort Mill Heart of a Champion Day, said diagnosing the cause of heart disease in youth can be “like looking for a needle in a haystack.”

The Heart of Champion exams include an electrocardiogram and, if needed, a echocardiogram, which can detect possible heart ailments.

At last year’s Fort Mill event about 12 cases of high blood pressure were identified, Pope said.

High blood pressure is generally rare among teens. Undiagnosed it can lead to much earlier instances of heart attacks and strokes.

Generally, high blood pressure among teens can be treated through lifestyle changes and, in some instances, medication.

The cardio screening includes looking for congenital abnormalities of the heart and blood vessels, the most common causes of sudden death. These abnormalities usually have no outward symptoms.

The most common abnormality is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is an excessive thickening of the heart muscle that can lead to an irregular heart beat.

A second common cause of sudden death is abnormal locations for the coronary arteries, which supply oxygen to the heart.

Pope said a screening in Charlotte several years ago discovered a female athlete with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

Cases such as that are uncommon, he said, as most athletes pass their physical, which is good for the following sports year.

For some student-athletes, this is the only time they see a doctor. Issues such as asthma and skin and vision problems are sometimes uncovered through these health screenings.

Carolinas HealthCare officials said any potential issues are discussed with parents and referred to family doctors. If a family doesn’t have a doctor, Carolinas HealthCare can help them find one.

Five CHS hospitals – Levine Children’s Hospital, Carolinas Medical Center, Carolinas HealthCare System Union, CMC-Lincoln, and CMC-Pineville – are sponsoring the screenings along with CHS’ SangerHeart & Vascular Institute and Sports Medicine & Injury Care, and OrthoCarolina.

Don Worthington •  803-329-4066

Heart of a Champion health screenings

Fort Mill and Nation Ford high school students wishing to participate must register online at http://www.carolinashealthcare.org/heart-of-a-champion by clicking on “Student Registration” in the box on the left side of the page. There will be transportation between the schools and medical plaza on May 9.