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For the past 15 years, Atrium Health’s Heart of a Champion Day has screened more than 20,000 student-athletes and helped them play sports safely. In partnership with the Carolina Panthers, this year’s event provided physical and mental health screenings at Bank of America Stadium for more than 700 student-athletes from the Charlotte-Metro region. For example, our volunteers used electrocardiograms to detect genetic heart abnormalities. Watch video.

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Think about all the work involved in preparing your young champion for a new season – attending training sessions, buying the latest gear, setting goals, etc. But it’s also important to ensure their health and safety through a comprehensive athletic screening. Young athletes can be affected by unexpected health emergencies, like cardiac arrest, on the field. We all remember the Damar Hamlin incident that rocked the NFL and national headlines earlier this year.

Atrium Health is passionate about helping families keep their student-athletes safe and healthy. Since 2008, Atrium Health’s Heart of a Champion Day has provided athletic screenings and education to help student-athletes play sports safely.

This year’s Heart of a Champion Day occurred on June 3, 2023. For the first time, the event was held in partnership with the Carolina Panthers and hosted at Bank of America Stadium. The venue was large enough to allow more than 435 volunteers to provide screenings and additional activities in a single location. Throughout the day, volunteers screened more than 700 high school athletes from the Charlotte-Metro region.

“It’s the largest sports screening event in the U.S., and it’s free to student-athletes who are enrolled in one of our partner schools,” explains Dr. David Price, medical director and co-founder of Heart of a Champion Day and sports medicine physician with Atrium Health Musculoskeletal Institute.

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Price’s family inspired him to help athletes of all ages. “I lost my father and his two brothers to heart attacks while they were all participating in sports,” he says. “Those experiences steered me into sports medicine and motivated me to push others to be active while ensuring their health and safety.”

Across this year’s Heart of a Champion events, Atrium Health:

      Screened over 1,200 student-athletes across 15 counties and 80 high schools in North and South Carolina
      Performed 2,566 sports physicals and electrocardiograms (EKGs)
      Provided CPR training to 805 students and parents
      Identified 73 student-athletes needing follow-up medical care during a screening

The following volunteers supported the event: athletic trainers, registered dieticians, performance experts, sports medicine physicians, cardiologists and their screening team, primary care providers, residents in training, orthopedists, physical therapists, nutritionists, social workers, psychologists, nurses and clinical assistants.

Parents love Heart of a Champion Day for its ease and convenience. “It gets their child’s sports physical and cardiac screening done all at once,” says Margo Long, athletic trainer with Atrium Health Musculoskeletal Institute. “All the results are stored in one electronic file, which is easily accessible by the child’s school and family. That way, we’re not expecting teenagers to help us keep track of paperwork.

Multidisciplinary Health Screening

Heart of a Champion Day athletic screenings include:

  1. A sports-specific medical exam, including a thorough review of the athlete’s medical history
  2. A physical exam, with a head-to-toe sports-specific assessment (including orthopedic screening)
  3. Mental health screening
  4. An EKG for cardiovascular screening

Unlike typical athletic screenings, Heart of a Champion Day offers EKGs – a noninvasive screening of the heart that checks for genetic abnormalities and other conditions. If left undetected, these abnormalities could lead to sudden cardiac arrest, a rare but catastrophic event.

“The physical exam includes input and oversight from multiple specialists, including orthopedic providers who check the athlete’s bones and joints,” explains Long. “Our physicians carefully review each physical to ensure nothing was missed and note whether the athlete is cleared to play.”

The program screens for potential heart problems, which tend to have the most significant impact on long-term health. However, volunteers have also identified student-athletes with other conditions and symptoms, including anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, leukemia and uncontrolled asthma. Volunteers refer student-athletes to Atrium Health specialists for follow-up care as needed.

Helping Underserved Communities

Heart of a Champion Day is designed to help all student-athletes, by providing these screenings at no-cost to the athlete and their families.

“The problem is that many student-athletes don’t see a doctor very often in their teen years,” explains Price. “Our program might be the only access they have to a provider to discuss their health, especially as it relates to sports. This is particularly beneficial for student-athletes from underserved communities who might not have access to primary care.”

If student-athletes don’t have a regular doctor, volunteers can help connect them with a primary care doctor or an advanced practice provider.

Fun Giveaways and Activities

In addition to exams and screenings, this year’s event included giveaways and activities to keep students engaged. For example, volunteers provided CPR training and an athletic performance station. This station allowed students to see how high or far they could jump. Students and their families also had the opportunity to learn tips for injury prevention.

Carolina Panthers players, including current wide receiver Terrace Marshall Jr. and former wide receiver Kenneth Moore Jr., greeted students at their home stadium and inspired them on their athletic journey.

“Having this opportunity to see where you are [with your health] is important,” Moore says. “Knowing one’s health status is important, especially for athletes of color. Undiagnosed high blood pressure is a ‘silent killer’ in the Black community.”

Caring for the Whole Patient

Heart of a Champion Day focuses on caring for the whole patient – physically and mentally. “Especially coming out of the pandemic, it’s important to prioritize the mental health of our athletes,” Price explains. “If we determine an athlete is at risk for anxiety or depression, we have counselors on-site who can see them in a private room and help them get the appropriate follow-up care.”

Price has enjoyed seeing student-athletes improve their health over the years. “It’s the most satisfying thing to see someone get treated for a condition that may have put them at risk for a serious health issue and get them back on the field playing safely,” he says.

Enhancing the Yearly Physical

It’s important to remember that Heart of a Champion Day screenings are not meant to replace a yearly physical with your child’s regular doctor.

“Our athletic screenings are designed to enhance the annual physical and help student-athletes play sports safely,” notes Price. “The cardiac screening we do is something a regular doctor wouldn't normally cover and is more comprehensive.”

Learn more about Atrium Health’s Heart of a Champion Day in the Charlotte-Metro region.