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Youth sports meeting outlines need for attention to safety

Apr. 7, 2016, 9:08 AM

Even though Tennessee has laws and policies in place to protect young athletes from sports-related fatalities, more diligence is needed to abide by them, said Alex Diamond, D.O., MPH.

Alex Diamond, D.O., MPH

“We have strong polices in Tennessee, but we can always do better,” he said.

Diamond, an assistant professor of Pediatrics and Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation who specializes in sports medicine, was one of two state representatives at the 2016 Collaborative Solutions for Safety in Sport meeting held recently in Indianapolis.

The meeting focused on the four top causes of deaths among youths during sports events.

“More than 90 percent of all deaths in college and high school sports are due to four causes: sudden cardiac arrest, exertional heat stroke, head injuries and something called exertional sickling, which involves youth who have sickle cell trait — not just the actual sickle cell disease,” Diamond said.

Tennessee requires that public schools have automated external defibrillators (AED), he said, but the life-saving devices are no help when they’re locked up somewhere and not maintained. This situation resulted in a 2011 tragedy in Michigan when a 16-year-old basketball player, Wes Leonard, collapsed after making a game-winning shot.

“The school had an AED but it was not accessible,” Diamond said. “It was locked in an office. When they were finally able to retrieve it, the battery was not working. So this whole process delayed a potentially life-saving shock, and he died.”

With the use of an AED within the first one to three minutes of a sudden cardiac arrest, the survival rate in young athletes is 89 percent. It drops significantly for every minute after that, Diamond said.

Identification of sickle cell trait in an athlete could potentially be overlooked.  Although the question is part of the standard pre-participation exam form, he said that some may be focused on the disease aspect of the question and overlook the importance of having the trait has in an athlete.

Youth with the sickle cell trait are not excluded from sports, but coaches need that information to take extra precautions in their workouts.

Heat stress can be a common denominator for three of the top four sports-related fatalities.

“We really advise against these over-the-top workouts, particularly in heat,” Diamond said.

Diamond stated that it is crucial for schools and youth leagues to have an emergency action plan in place and to routinely practice them.

“Unfortunately, not everything is preventable, but being prepared to handle an emergency when one occurs can make all the difference in saving a life.”

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