Doctor urges club players to have heart checks
BY the end of this year all current senior inter-county GAA players will have had cardiac screening -- but not enough clubs are taking responsibility in this area, according to one of the GAA's leading medics.
The case of Bolton Wanderers' Fabrice Muamba has once again raised the issue of Sudden Adult Death Syndrome (SADS) among athletes, which the GAA was forced to address seriously following the tragic death of Tyrone star Cormac McAnallen in 2004.
A commercial screening company called Heartaid is now employed by the Gaelic Players' Association (GPA) to screen all the country's senior inter-county panels -- it is two-thirds of the way through that process.
But the high-profile SADS deaths that have already occurred in the GAA this year were all young club players. Following McAnallen's death, the GAA undertook a pilot study of 300 players and recommended that all players, from U-14 upwards, should undergo cardiac screening.
The McAnallen family, who have set up their own Cormac Trust to educate and support clubs, were subsequently critical of the fact that the GAA were not willing to fund such a nationalised programme. But the head of the GAA's Medical, Scientific and Welfare Committee said yesterday that this is not feasible and that the GAA is doing everything it can in this area.
"The GAA has subsidised the provision of defibrillators for clubs around the country and educated people in how to use them, but funding a programme to test every player from U-14 up simply isn't practical," Dr Danny Mulvihill said.
He said problems could occur because clubs are not following the screening advice that his committee have provided
"Given the level at which some clubs are training now, which is often close to inter-county standards, it is something they should be taking seriously," he said.
"Having studied all the best American and British research, we made a series of recommendations on the medical and welfare section of the GAA's website, but how many clubs have followed them?
"Clubs are willing to raise funds for this, that and the other but this is something they should seriously look at, cardiac screening is not expensive."
Ed Donovan, the founder of Heartaid -- the company were in London last weekend to test the Exiles' inter-county squads and travel to Armagh to test their hurlers this weekend -- said yesterday that players can be tested "for the price of a good pair of sneakers."
Heartaid also provide screening for clubs and schools, in both GAA and rugby, and Donovan said that Italy has reduced its SADS rates by 89pc because of mandatory testing.
Screening involves a questionnaire and physical testing, and is most rigorous when the questionnaire indicates a medical or genetic history that could leave a player susceptible to an underlying cardiac condition.
If anything serious is discovered by the physical tests, the results are not just relayed to the player but forwarded to his inter-county team doctor or his GP.
The GAA also offers the services of top sports cardiac specialist Dr Joe Galvin to players who find they have a problem.
In the case of the GAA's initial pilot scheme, just two players were found to have had underlying conditions but neither was serious and both were able to resume playing.
But Dr Mulvihill admitted that they had initially sought 600 players to take part in that scheme. He believes they got only half that amount because the terms and conditions of the testing insist that any player found to have a serious problem must stop playing.
He said this, the cost and the normal reluctance of people to take on extra responsibilities, were all factors in clubs not getting involved with cardiac screening and recommended that they should do so, starting with visiting www.gaa.ie