PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Five of Pitt’s football players will miss this season because of medical conditions.
Two of them have heart issues, and for one of them, it appears to be career-ending.
Defensive lineman Zach Gilbert will be out for the season with a heart problem, but defensive back George Hill will no longer play at all because of a heart condition.
Both players’ problems were discovered during tests required for all athletes in the program.
“Thank God for our medical care here in the City of Pittsburgh,” said Coach Pat Narduzzi. “You know, the scanning procedures. Not a lot of places in the country are going to find what we find. I’ve seen some bad things happen on the field or the indoor facility in the winter.”
Cardiologist Dr. Timothy Wong says a cardiac MRI allows doctors to see a heart beating as they scan the patient. And other revealing tests are just as valuable.
“Safety is one of the main concerns of the Pitt Athletic programs. That’s why there’s a very well-oiled protocol in place to look for any red flags,” said Dr. Wong.
They hope to prevent a tragedy like what happened to Hank Gathers in 1990. Gathers was a college basketball star who collapsed and died during a game.
In fact, research shows male basketball players are most at risk of sudden cardiac death, followed by soccer and football players.
But Coach Narduzzi says it’s difficult to break the news to a player that they can’t play because of a health problem.
“Those are the hardest conversations,” said Coach Narduzzi. “You know it’s easy to come out here and coach, but those are hard because these kids, it’s their life.”
Fortunately, Dr. Wong says it’s less than two percent of players in which they detect trouble, and even less than that who have to actually end their careers.
“What we’re trying to do is prevent athletes from having problems on the playing field and in worst case scenario having sudden death,” he said.
As for high school athletes and what should be done for them, Dr. Wong says that’s a controversial subject. But he says a good start is a 14-question survey designed by the American Heart Association that hopes to detect a family history or symptoms that might need to be checked out further.