Barry Saunders

A simple screening that could save lives – Saunders

Thomie and Gary Moore noticed, right around the time her AAU basketball coach did, that their daughter, Jordan Moore, was laboring on the court during a tournament in Myrtle Beach last July.

“The coach pulled her off the court because she started having shortness of breath. She started sweating profusely,” Thomie Moore told me when I spoke with the family recently. “We sat her down and calmed her down. Five or 10 minutes later, she seemed to be OK and resumed playing the rest of the game. When we got back home, we took her to her pediatrician and that started a whole series of tests. Initially her pediatrician – her former pediatrician – said it was just stress and anxiety from the tournament, but something didn’t sit right with us.”

Jordan had been playing basketball for years, and stress had never been an issue before, Gary Moore said.

The tests revealed that Jordan, then 14, was afflicted with supraventricular tachycardia, an ailment that causes one’s heartbeat to accelerate to dangerous levels.

Jordan underwent heart surgery, now wears a heart monitor and has hung up her basketball shoes – for now. She still runs track, though, and is a member of the color guard at North Raleigh Christian Academy.

I learned of Jordan’s condition – and learned of supraventricular tachycardia – when Jordan wrote a letter to the N&O a few weeks ago. “There have been teenagers with heart problems that they didn’t even know about, and they’ve just been dying and I want to alert people” about the condition, she said when I asked what prompted her to write the letter. Her surgery, she wrote, “was quite an emotional ride.”

At 14? At any age? Of course it was.

Thomie Moore said that when the family switched pediatricians, “they did several things right there in the office to lead us to believe there were other things going on. They recommended we see a cardiologist and have an EKG and stress test. That’s when we found out she had SVT.”

Had her parents not been so diligent – and had they not sought a second opinion from another doctor – their story could be one of the tragedies about which we seem to read each year as teenagers hit the athletic fields and courts. A 2012 study by Mark Link of Tufts University School of Medicine showed that one competitive athlete dies every three days in the United States of SCD – sudden cardiac death.

That is a uniquely American phenomenon and a preventable one, Dr. Bill Henry of Bailliard Henry Pediatric Cardiology in Raleigh told me last week. Henry contrasted the way this country addresses such health issues with the way some other nations do.

“In the European Union countries, they do mandatory screenings at the age equivalent of middle school,” he said. “The screenings consist of extensively reviewing family history, electrocardiograms and they call for the child to be examined by a cardiologist or a sports medicine physician.”

In other words, students in the EU automatically get the testing Jordan Moore received only after her parents and coach noticed her distress on the Myrtle Beach basketball court.

SVT is an electrical issue where the heartbeat accelerates. Ventricular hypertrophy – which was cited as the cause of death of Tyrek Coger, a Raleigh man who died after working out with his Oklahoma State basketball team – is caused by a thickening of the muscle wall around the heart.

That screening, Henry said, “has substantially reduced the risk of participation in sports, but we don’t have that in this country. Seems like the focus here is on concussions, which is quite appropriate, but not on other issues that we can screen for such as SVT. ... There is not an entity in this country that says you have to do this, but if you think about the EU – they somehow pull off this comprehensive approach and their population is substantially larger than ours.

“A lot of times that catastrophic event is not anything that will necessarily make any noise” – call early attention to itself – “but can be picked up by an exam,” he said. “If you do all of these, you can substantially reduce the risk to athletes” here, too.

Efforts to reach someone at the North Carolina High School Athletic Association to find out why young athletes here don’t get the more comprehensive screenings were unsuccessful.

SVT is an electrical issue where the heartbeat accelerates. Ventricular hypertrophy – which was cited as the cause of death of Tyrek Coger, a Raleigh man who died at 22 after working out with his Oklahoma State basketball team in July – is caused by a thickening of the muscle wall around the heart.

Both, Henry said, can be successfully screened and treated.

Why, then, isn’t an EKG a mandatory part of the workup teen athletes receive before being cleared to play? The cost must be off the charts, right?

Wrong, Henry said, noting that the reimbursement rate for an EKG ranges from $5 to $23. The problem, he said, is that “nobody wants to take responsibility for recognizing the importance of doing it. There’s been a big debate ongoing in this country, but there’s been no leadership in this area.”

Had the Moores merely accepted the first doctor’s benign diagnosis of stress, you might still be reading about their daughter in the newspaper, but not about such a happy ending.

“We’re very blessed,” Thomie Moore said.

Sure, Jordan was blessed to have parents who were observant and who didn’t accept the first medical diagnosis they received. Thousands of other kids could be blessed now that Jordan and Henry are adamant about calling attention to a deadly problem that doesn’t make any noise – until it’s too late.