Teen Sports Physical Event Catches Life-Threatening Heart Defect

At MOS’ annual Pass to Play event, Dr. Knight spotted an irregular heartbeat leading a student on “borrowed time” to surgical repair

Student athlete, Will
Will, his sophomore year of high school

It was a warm July afternoon when Will, an avid soccer player and runner attending College Park High School, met Dr. John Knight for his sports physical. This was last year at Muir Orthopaedic Specialists’(MOS’s) third annual Pass to Play event, where Bay Area youth athletes can receive a exam required for them to participate in team sports at school.

Susan Bertilacchi-Green, a local nurse, was with her son Will. Both thought it would be a routine physical, resulting in a clean bill of health to compete.

“Will has always been healthy and active,” recalls Susan. “He was regularly seen by a pediatrician when he was younger, and has had past sports physicals. In fact, the day we saw Dr. Knight, Will had run a 10K trail race in Lake Chabot.”

Dr. Knight and his colleagues see many athletes during the Pass to Play event, most often spotting minor issues or none at all. But Dr. Knight took pause with Will after noticing an irregular heartbeat.

“Dr. Knight recommended that we follow up with our primary care provider for an EKG, which led us to a pediatric cardiologist and would eventually lead to treatment at University of California, San Francisco Medical Center,” says Susan.

It turns out that Will had an atrial septum defect (ASD) – a hole in the wall between the two upper chambers of the heart. ASD, a congenital condition, had been with Will his whole life and had not been discovered until Dr. Knight listened carefully.

“We are committed to serve our community in anyway possible,” said Dr. Knight. “We look at the Pass to Play program as an adjunct to the care our student athletes get from their primary care physicians. Whenever we can find a problem or prevent any injury, we feel that the program proves it’s value.”

Living on borrowed time

Finding the condition when they did was critical, and Susan believes that Will was living “on borrowed time.” A heart surgeon repaired the hole, which ended up taking a 32mm “patch” to close.

“I cannot say enough about how fortunate we feel that Dr. Knight examined Will and took the time to find something that had gone unnoticed and could have had a more devastating outcome,” Susan says.

Recent reports state that more than 90 percent of sudden deaths in high school sports are due to sudden cardiac arrest. Sudden cardiac arrest is largely survivable ­– if someone on the scene knows what to do, which is immediate recognition, early cardiopulmonary resuscitation and access to an automated external defibrillator (AED).

Programs like Pass to Play that prioritize education and screening help to increase awareness of health issues for student athletes. And in Will’s case, last year’s Pass to Play potentially saved his life.

Join us for this year’s Pass to Play

For this year’s Pass to Play event on July 30, MOS has teamed up with the Darius Jones Foundation and American Medical Response (AMR) to provide optional cardiac screenings to students who are getting pre-participation evaluations. That means that, unlike other sports physicals, MOS Pass to Play participants have the opportunity to catch potentially dangerous heart conditions like Will’s right on the spot, without waiting for a separate doctor appointment.

There is still time (with limited space) to sign up for this year’s event. Make sure you are ready for the season by participating in Pass to Play. The $30 fee goes right back to the student’s school athletic program.

Learn more and sign up