Makiri Pugh is not your typical college freshman. At age 18, he knows more than most young adults about the structure and health of his heart, and it's not because he's sick.
Pugh, of Charlotte, North Carolina, was recruited to play football for the University of Georgia Bulldogs, ranked No. 1 in pre-season polls.
Like other elite athletes at the school in Athens, Georgia, he was required to undergo a battery of medical tests before he took the field.
What made this checkup unique is that it specifically screens athletes for the risk of sudden cardiac arrest and other heart problems.
Sudden cardiac arrest affects more than 400,000 people every year in the United States and is the leading cause of death among young athletes, according to the National Athletic Trainers' Association.
"What we're looking for today is some evidence that would signal to us that there is an underlying heart problem," explained Atlanta-based cardiologist Winston Gandy.
Gandy is part of a team of doctors who provide the in-depth exams for the student-athletes at UGA. They look at everything from their eyesight to their hearing to their heart rhythm.
Gandy volunteers his time as medical director of a program called Athlete's Heart Beat.
"There are things that we can pick up with an electrocardiogram or with echocardiography that we may need to follow and in some cases could be career ending," Gandy said.
I think that is excellent. I have talked a bit before about the likely causes of sudden death in young athletes. (That post was in reference to the sudden death of an Olympic marathon runner.) In most cases, the causes of sudden death in young athletes are due to arrhythmias or developmental abnormalities in the heart muscle. We do have ways of detecting these problems -- EKGs and echos being the best. EKGs and echos aren't really that expensive or difficult procedures to perform. They just take a bit of time. As a consequence, I would definitely classify these as preventable deaths.
I am happy to see the University of Georgia is taking the lead at trying to identify these abnormalities before you have a dead player on the field. I would like to see other programs adopt similar tactics.
Georgia is not the only place that does health screenings. I think most major programs do this now. Here is the story of Sam Maresh, a Minnesota football recruit whose health screening uncovered a heart murmur that requires surgery and will probably end his football career:
Screening is a step in the right direction. I think we're beginning to see athletes, the pinnacle of physical fitness, are not necessarily healthy. Performance and health are often at odds. This is obvious when you consider how many athletes end up injured or develop disease after retirement.
Now the real question that we don't like to discuss: why aren't we promoting a diet that can really save people's hearts? The current guidelines are moderate, and it appears moderation kills: