Gaines Adams was born on June 8th, 1983 in Greenwood, SC. He went to Cambridge Academy High School in Greenwood, SC and played football at Clemson University in SC. He was selected fourth overall in the 2007 NFL draft by Tampa Bay, but was traded to the Chicago Bears in October 2009.
On January 17, 2010 at the age of 26, he was rushed to the emergency department at Self Regional in Greenwood, SC around 9AM. After an autopsy it was confirmed that the NFL player died of an enlarged heart, cardiomyopathy.
Cardiomyopathy is a condition that has taken the lives of many of our young, promising athletes. NFL players: Derrick Faison, Thomas Herrion and Mitch Frerotte; NBA players: Reggie Lewis, Jason Collier and Kevin Duckworth; NHL player: Sergei Zholtok, college basketball player: Hank Gathers; and long distance runner Ryan Shay (just to name a few) all died at a young age from cariomyopathy.
Cardiomyopathy is a serious disease in which the heart muscle becomes inflamed and enlarged, causing the heart to no longer work as well as it should. Cardiomyopathy can be classified as primary or secondary. In primary cardiomyopathy there is no specific cause, such as high blood pressure, heart valve disease, artery diseases or congenital heart defects. Whereas with secondary cardiomyopathy, there is a specific cause for the condition, usually associated with diseases involving other organs as well as the heart. In medical studies done on those who athletes who have passed suddenly from non-traumatic deaths, it was found that the major contributor to sudden death from cardiovascular causes during sport was hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is the most common inherited heart defect. With hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the muscle mass of the left ventricle enlarges. When this occurs, the blood flow can become obstructed and the thickened wall sometimes distorts one leaflet of the mitral valve, causing it to leak. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy can also cause cardiac arrhythmias, or abnormal heart rhythms. It is these abnormal heart rhythms that can lead to sudden death.
While most individuals have no symptoms at all, some people report shortness of breath on exertion, dizziness, fainting, and angina pectoris, or chest pain. They may also report the feeling of their heart racing, or the feeling of it ‘beating out of their chest’.
If found early, the usual treatment for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy involves simply taking medications such as beta blockers or a calcium channel blockers. If a person has an arrhythmia, an antiarrhythmic drug may also be used. Due to the high rate of inheritance in the condition, once it has been identified in a family member, it is advised that all family be tested as soon as possible for the condition. For children, often the first sign of cardiomyopathy is sudden cardiac arrest. The easiest diagnostic test to identify cardiomyopathy is an EKG; however, the most sensitive diagnostic testing today is genetic testing for the condition.
So, why isn’t an EKG required for high school and college sports participation? There is a big debate over the need for additional testing for sports participants right now. Currently, high schools and colleges only require a medical exam and family history form. The question is where is the harm of having additional testing?
Well, there are many people who live their entire lives with heart conditions such as cardiomyopathy and they never realize it, as it stays benign and asymptomatic, not requiring treatment. So, it may be that the additional testing could lead to treatments that are not required. Also, it has been found that up to 40% of young athletes may have EKG abnormalities caused my rigorous training and these abnormalities will return within normal limits, once this rigorous training is concluded; however, it could take as long as three to six months for the heart to shrink back to normal size. During this time, it is argued that the athletes could lose valuable training time, during which they could be scouted by professional teams or making an income as a professional athlete. This could be a sizable amount of money lost to the athlete and their families, which the athlete themselves may not be willing to risk losing.
Because many athletes increase the size of their hearts (thereby causing EKG abnormalities that will eventually resolve themselves without treatment) from their vigorous training schedules, the American Heart Association does not require mandatory EKGs for all young athletes participating in sporting events, as do some other countries, such as Italy, who reports a decreased number of sudden deaths in their athletes from cardiomyopathy.