Hopkins “Heart Hype” Promotes Early Detection of Cardiac Disease in Young Athletes


By: Tracy M. Fitzgerald

Theodore Abraham, M.D., associate professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology at Johns Hopkins Hospital, wants to make sure that young athletes realize that being healthy and in good shape does not necessary make them invincible. He wants them to be educated about a heart condition called ventricular hypertrophy, and the fact that it is the most common cause of sudden death among people under the age of 30. And perhaps most importantly, he is volunteering his time each year, to give young athletes an opportunity to be screened.

Since 2006, Abraham has coordinated and led the “Johns Hopkins Heart Hype” program, inviting young athletes to be screened for hypertrophy, which causes the walls of a heart’s main pumping chamber to thicken and in some cases, fail. Since its inception, the annual event, typically held at Morgan State University in conjunction with the Maryland State High School Track and Field Championships, has given close to 1,000 young athletes an opportunity to detect a heart condition, or confirm the absence of one, in the most positive cases.

“We saw a 17-year-old, two-sport athlete who was in great shape and had no health issues or complaints, but just decided to participate since we were there,” said Dr. Abraham said. “We detected a significant issue and saw that his heart was functioning at a very low level, leading to treatment that could have saved his life or prevented a serious incident down the road.”

According to Dr. Abraham, Heart Hype is Johns Hopkins’ largest community outreach effort and involves use of more than $2 million in equipment. The program’s impact on the public will expand significantly in 2012, with plans for the screening event to be offered during the National Junior Olympics Track and Field Championships, which will be held July 23 – 29 at Morgan State University’s Hughes Stadium. The event, expected to draw 6,000 to 8,000 high school athletes from across the country, will give Dr. Abraham and his team of volunteers an opportunity to change many lives.

“Athletes are not aware of how prevalent this condition is, and neither are their parents,” said Dr. Abraham. “Our number one goal is to raise awareness and make sure that people know how important it is to be screened regularly, and to act immediately if they ever experience chest pains or other signs of a potential heart condition.”

With preparations already underway for the 2012 screening event, Dr. Abraham is actively searching for volunteers to help support the program and assure that as many young athletes as possible can participate. While clinical experts can help by reviewing EKGs and ultrasound results, additional volunteers can be utilized for registration and management of the overall process flow for each participant.

“It’s very fulfilling to see teenagers come in to the event with a sincere desire to find out if they are okay,” said Dr. Abraham. “It is great to be able to give them that confirmation, or to steer them in the right direction for help, if they show early signs of heart disease.”

Physicians and other members of the community that would like to support the event through volunteerism are encouraged to call 410-502-7974 for further information.

Maryland Physician would like to hear about your “Good Deeds.” Please share your ideas with us by contacting us via email at gooddeeds@mdphysicianmag.com.

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