Cardiologist encourages heart checks for some student athletes after COVID-19 recovery

.(Live 5 News)
Updated: Oct. 4, 2020 at 11:20 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Some health experts are raising new concerns about the lasting impacts of the coronavirus on the hearts of student athletes.

Dr. Lanier Jackson, a pediatric cardiologist for the Medical University of South Carolina, is concerned about a potentially deadly complication that can linger long after a child has recovered from COVID-19.

“Myocarditis is one of the main things we get concerned about with an infection and causing sudden cardiac death or a major event with the sports participation,” Jackson said. “If your kid has significant symptoms particularly related to COVID-19, it’s at least worth checking in with your pediatrician.”

Jackson is encouraging physicians to pay particular attention to student athletes who had moderate to severe symptoms related to COVID-19. He is concerned the virus can cause inflammation around their hearts, and he suggests they undergo an echocardiogram before returning to full sports activity after their recovery.

“It’s a screening test, so most people end up being completely fine. But the hope is, by screening patients that do have myocarditis, it is very, very rare,” Jackson said. “We are just trying to prevent any kind of catastrophic event from happening.”

Sports physicals don’t require EKG/ECG’s, which check the electrical activity of the heart. Instead, it’s up to a physician to order one, and Jackson hopes his work to bring awareness to this potentially dangerous issue will encourage doctors to do so.

“If you’re greater than 12 and have a moderate infection, we recommend getting an EKG, and if it’s normal you’re clear and if it’s abnormal that’s when you filter over to see a specialist,” Jackson said.

He is also calling on schools and sports clubs to have defibrillators on hand because they could be the difference between life and death.

In 2008, South Carolina lawmakers mandated each high school in the state have a defibrillator on site, but some school districts have gone above and beyond what’s required.

Charleston County School District officials said all of their schools have AEDs.

In Dorchester School District Two, each high school has up to four defibrillators, and all middle schools have at least one.

Plus, on the sidelines, athletic trainers in both districts are equipped with AEDs in case of an emergency during a game or practice.

“We are not letting our guard down and staying on the lookout for those types of things,” Roper St. Francis Healthcare’s Kyle Prothro said.

In 2016, SC lawmakers passed another bill which requires all high school students to be taught how to do CPR and use an AED.

“Having an action plan and knowing what to do when an athlete collapses on the field is important and can be life-saving,” Jackson said.

Most kids recover from COVID-19 without any dangerous or long-term effects, according to Jackson. However, he hopes student athletes and their parents will take the illness seriously. He encourages athletes to tell their parents or coaches if they aren’t feeling normal when they return to play.

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