Beyond the obvious concerns about coronavirus infection, some college administrators are growing increasingly concerned with a virus-related heart condition and taking those concerns into account as they process their decisions on fall sports.
According to ESPN, at least five Big Ten student-athletes have been found to have myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle. Several more cases exist in other conferences. The condition is usually caused by viral infection, and can cause long-term damage or lead to sudden cardiac arrest if undiagnosed and untreated.
Dr. Jonathan Drezner, director of the University of Washington Medicine Center for Sports Cardiology and a sports medicine physician who advises the NCAA, told ESPN that the issue has “made the bar higher” when it comes to considering a return to sports.
Myocarditis is a relatively rare condition, and while research on the link between it and COVID-19 is limited, it appears that it occurs more frequently with coronavirus infections than with other viral infections, based on limited studies and anecdotal evidence.
Dr. Matthew Martinez, director of sports cardiology for Atlantic Health System in New Jersey, who also serves as a cardiologist and consultant in numerous pro sports, told ESPN that he’s been fielding calls from Power 5 programs that have identified student-athletes with myocardial injuries post-COVID. Martinez told ESPN that about half of the student-athletes who developed an injury showed no symptoms.
Martinez told ESPN that he hoped that the percentage of athletes who did develop heart-related issues would be under 5 percent, but noted that with so much remaining unknown, he would recommend a conservative approach toward resuming sports.
Several schools have begun screening student-athletes for the condition, but procedures vary.
The condition came to prominence within college athletics circles when the mother of incoming freshman lineman for Indiana University posted about her son’s condition on Facebook.
“Unfortunately this virus hit my son very hard compared to most of his teammates,” Debbie Rucker, mother of Brady Feeney wrote. “Here was a kid in perfect health, great physical condition and due to the virus ended up going to the ER because of breathing issues. After 14 days of hell battling the horrible virus, his school did additional testing on all those that were positive. My son even received extra tests because he was one of the worst cases. Now we are dealing with possible heart issues! He is still experiencing additional symptoms and his blood work is indicating additional problems. Bottom line, even if your son's schools do everything right to protect them, they CAN'T PROTECT THEM!!"