Saving hearts and lives, professor helps athletes

| News Manager

Each year, approximately 75 athletes between the ages of 13 and 25 years old die due to a heart related cause. Most of these athletes die suddenly during or after exercising. Dr. Keith Mankowitz, the Director of the Athletes Prevention Program at Washington University, is working to stop these deaths.

Mankowitz, who is a cardiologist by training, has started a campaign to inform St. Louis High School officials of the deaths of student athletes because of undetected health related diseases such as Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM).

The thickening of the walls of the heart muscle causes hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy. HCM occurs in every 1 in 500 people, and it is due to one of a number of possible defective genes. HCM is the most common cause of sudden death in young athletes, and the disease can be detected using common tests done by a cardiologist, such as an electrocardiogram or echocardiogram.

A small subset of patients with HCM are susceptible to sudden premature death, and such a condition exists when the patient has a family history of sudden death or a fall in blood pressure with exercise. Those with HCM should avoid bursts of physical exertion, and Mankowitz says certain sports, such as soccer and football must also be avoided. Many with the disease do not know they even have it. Once this disease is detected, medication must be prescribed, and some will require the placement of a defibulator.

Mankowitz says his interest in the disease began with his interest in sports.

“I’m a cardiologist and I’ve also played a lot of sports, and with HCM as the biggest killer among athletes, I was very interested in raising awareness,” he said.

He has had two conferences in the St. Louis area, mostly attended by sports coaches, school principals, school physicians and nurses, in order to educate them on the risk of exercise causing sudden death and the risk of HCM among athletes.

“My main focus is really educating people who screen athletes. A lot of athletes go to the gym and someone puts a stethoscope on their chest and they don’t pay much attention to each individual athlete and don’t really know what they’re looking for to figure out what they have,” Mankowitz said.

Mankowitz is using the Internet to educate healthcare officials. He has produced a YouTube video, which has had at least 400 hits.

“I want to make sure as many people in the schools are certified for necessitation as many people as possible including school kids, universities, sports participants they should all go through training so that they learn how to do CPR,” he said.

He has designed a web-based learning program for these officials and for the athletes themselves.

Mankowitz’s motivation comes from his compassion for the athletes.

“I think it’s just seeing athletes dying every year and you see all these reports every year, but it’s a global experience of seeing young people die that I really want to do something about,” he said.

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