In February, hundreds of youth sports safety advocates convened at a Washington hotel. They were determined to talk about something other than concussions, a counter intuitive ambition considering the rampant worry about the effects of head trauma in young athletes.
But the Washington group knew something most do not: the No. 1 killer of young athletes is sudden cardiac arrest, typically brought on by a pre-existing, detectable condition that could have been treated. Another substantial yet hidden lethal threat is heat stroke, a condition considered completely preventable.
Concussions are receiving attention nationwide, but death from a blow to the head is exceedingly rare. In contrast, a young athlete dies from a cardiac incident once every three days in the United States, researchers say. In hot months like August, heat stroke often causes the death of a young athlete every other day on average.
“Concussion victims almost always get a second chance,” said Laura Friend, an attendee at the Washington summit whose 12-year-old daughter, Sarah, died of sudden cardiac arrest while swimming at a Texas community pool in 2004. “When your heart fails from something that could have been treated — which happens all the time — you don’t have another chance. As someone told me, sudden cardiac arrest is not rare; surviving it is.”