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Published on June 16, 2011

Mercy Fitzgerald Partners with William Penn School District to Screen Student Athletes

Darby, PA - For the fourth consecutive year, Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital (MFH) teamed up with the William Penn School District to sponsor athletic screenings for Penn Wood High School students on June 1.

Sixty-one student athletes in various sports were evaluated for sudden cardiac death risk factors and musculoskeletal disorders while fulfilling their PIAA (Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association) pre-participation physical exam requirements at no charge. In addition, football players received a concussion screen.

Twenty-one students, or 34 percent, were referred for cardiac and/or orthopedic follow-up care. When the screening program was first offered in 2008, more than 40 percent of the participating students were found to have abnormalities and referred for follow-up treatment.

"These types of screenings can help young individuals minimize their risks for developing serious medical problems by identifying the risks, helping them get the appropriate medical care and helping them make lifestyle modifications," says Martin O'Riordan, MD, one of the cardiologists who evaluated the students.

"As we continue to monitor the students from Penn Wood, we are finding that many of them have become more proactive in preventive care and are appreciative of the health education we provide," adds O'Riordan. "We've also learned from the school that many of these athletes would not even play in their sports if it wasn't for the state-of-the art medical screenings that we perform."

As in previous years, the students received a comprehensive screening that included an electrocardiogram (EKG), a focused history and physical examination with an attending cardiologist, as well as a musculoskeletal evaluation with a physical therapist and orthopedic surgeon.

This year, physical therapists experienced in evaluating and treating post concussive syndrome added a concussion screen for football players due to the increased risk of concussions in that sport. These screens included balance and oculomotor control assessments, which are areas that may be affected in the event of a concussion.

O'Riordan, who also chairs the Division of Cardiology at MFH, first brought the idea for this screening program to the William Penn School District in late 2007. He spent three months with the Italian Olympic Committee in Rome in 2006, screening its athletes for sudden cardiac death risk factors.

Sudden cardiac death, as defined by the American Heart Association, is a death resulting from an abrupt loss of heart function, where the victim may have diagnosed heart disease. Although sudden cardiac death in athletes, especially young athletes, is rare, a screening can help improve disease detection.

A concussion, as defined by the Centers for Disease and Prevention Control, is a type of traumatic brain injury caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head. As estimated 1.6 to 3.8 million sport-related concussions are sustained every year, with an average of 21 percent occurring in high school athletes.

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Conshohocken, PA 19428

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