Atrium Health’s Heart of a Champion Day Provides Critical Sports Screenings for Student Athletes

05.07.2024 Atrium Health News | Levine Children's | Musculoskeletal Institute | Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute

Sixteen years of potentially lifesaving cardiac screenings for student-athletes in the Carolinas

CHARLOTTE, N.C., May 7, 2023 Atrium Health’s Heart of a Champion Day, an initiative crucial for the safety of high school athletes, is marking another year of substantial growth and success. The event, now in its 16th year, was recently held at Atrium Health Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute’s flagship Charlotte location and at Atrium Health Musculoskeletal Institute Orthopedics & Sports Medicine, in Indian Trail, North Carolina.

This year’s Heart of a Champion Day provided more than 2,000 student-athletes with free, multidisciplinary health screenings that included a medical history review, general sports screening for North Carolina and South Carolina, electrocardiograms (ECG), orthopedic assessments, vision tests and mental health screenings. These screenings were performed by Atrium Health’s comprehensive team of health professionals.

"Incorporating diagnostic tools like ECGs, which are interpreted by experts, helps us identify athletes who may be at risk of heart conditions that often go unnoticed,” said Dr. Dermot Phelan, director of the Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute Sports Cardiology Center. “Early detection and intervention may be the difference between life and death."

Since its inception in 2008, the program has grown to encompass a wide array of sports specific health screenings designed to detect some of the common, potentially life-threatening cardiac conditions and other health issues that may put athletes at risk for playing sports safely. These cardiac conditions include genetic heart abnormalities that could lead to sudden cardiac arrest during competition – a rare but potentially catastrophic event.

“Having lost family members to heart issues triggered by exercise, I’ve dedicated a good part of my career to trying to detect conditions in athletes before problems arise,” said Dr. David Price, a sports medicine physician at Atrium Health Musculoskeletal Institute and the medical director of Heart of a Champion Day. “Our screenings ensure athletes not only perform their best, but do so with health security.”

"In recent years, we've seen a growing body of evidence demonstrating that even if a cardiac condition is detected in athletes, many of these cases can be effectively managed,” said Phelan. “In fact, returning to athletic competition isn't just possible, but often it's the best outcome for the student's health and well-being. Through early detection and proper management, we can help young athletes continue to pursue their passions safely and confidently."

Heart of a Champion Day brings together an impressive roster of health care professionals, including athletic trainers, primary care and medical providers, dietitians, cardiologists, orthopedic surgeons and mental health experts, as well as experts from Atrium Health Levine Children’s. This collaborative approach not only enhances the screening process but also educates and empowers students about their health.

Additional Heart of a Champion screenings will be held in the Piedmont Triad region in late May and early June.

As Heart of a Champion Day continues each year, plans are already underway to further increase the number of screening sites and incorporate additional, advanced diagnostic tools. This initiative is part of Atrium Health’s broader mission to serve the community and enhance the health and safety of young athletes across the region.

"While not a substitute for an athlete’s regular physical, this event is often the athlete’s first connection with a health care system since they were very young,” said Price. “We do our best to get them re-connected with a primary care provider to promote their ongoing well-being.

“Each year, as we expand and refine our program, we are reminded of the critical importance of our mission,” he added. “The joy and relief we see in the students and their families inspires us to push forward and innovate continuously.”