Nov. 7, 2007
The possibility that young, well-trained athletes at the high school, college, or professional level could die suddenly seems incomprehensible. It is a dramatic and tragic event that devastates families and the community.
Sports are not a cause of enhanced mortality, but they can trigger sudden death in athletes with heart or blood vessel abnormalities by predisposing them to life-threatening heart irregularities.
The University of Tennessee Athletic Department and Digirad Ultrascan Solutions have partnered to provide more than 500 free echocardiograms to Tennessee student-athletes. The echocardiogram will provide cardiologists with a 3D image of the heart to rule out causes of sudden death syndrome.
The test takes about 15 minutes and is being done in UT's athletic training rooms. Ultrascan came to campus over the summer to test approximately 300 student-athletes on campus. This week, the group is testing an additional 100 student-athletes, which will complete their testing for this year. Since each student-athlete only needs to be tested one time to determine if they have a genetic disorder that cause's sudden athlete death syndrome, Ultrascan will only need to test new student-athletes in the future.
"Ultrascan is providing our university and our student-athletes with a tremendous service," said Jason McVeigh, head men's athletic trainer at Tennessee. "Many of the causes of sudden cardiac death could be identified with this testing. By donating this service to Tennessee, we become one of only a handful of university's in the country that provides this valuable and potentially life saving service to our student-athletes."
Sudden death most commonly occurs in football or basketball, accounting for two-thirds of sudden death of athletes in the US. In the rest of the world, soccer is the sport most commonly associated with sudden death. Sudden death occurs in 1 to 2 in 200,000 athletes annually and predominately strikes male athletes.
"Without the donation of this service, we wouldn't be able to do this," added McVeigh. "Typically a 3D echo would cost us about $1,000 each between the test and the physician examination of the results. If Ultrascan were not donating their services, it would potentially cost us over a half million dollars to perform this test on all of our student-athletes."
Some well-known athletes who have been victims of sudden death include marathon runner Jim Fixx (1984), Olympic volleyball star Flo Hyman (1986), NBA basketball star Hank Gathers (1990), Olympic figure skater Sergei Grinkov (1995), all pro NFL player Korey Stringer with the Minnesota Vikings (2001), and Darryl Kile, all-star pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals (2002).
"I love Tennessee and wanted to give something back. This was a wonderful opportunity for me to provide a service to the student-athletes," says Mickie King Jr., president and CEO of Ultrascan. "I greatly appreciate Jason and Jenny's (Moshak, head women's athletic trainer) friendship. They took a strong interest in helping our student-athletes. Coach Fulmer's interest and support has also been key in making this opportunity happen."
King, who is a Tennessee graduate and lifelong supporter, has over 20 years experience in the advanced imaging business. He founded Ultrascan Inc., in 1996. In May 2007, Ultrascan was acquired by Digirad Corporation, a leading provider of cardiovascular imaging services and solid-state nuclear medicine imaging products to physician offices, hospitals and imaging centers. Ultrascan, now Digirad UltraScan Solutions, currently provides mobile ultrasound services to more than 100 clients through a 50-unit mobile fleet as well as fixed-site nuclear imaging services at physician offices, clinics and hospitals primarily in Georgia.