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Bronny James Faces Silent Killer, Understanding Cardiac Arrest in Young Athletes

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Author name: Lee Health


LeBron James Jr., the son of the NBA star LeBron James, suffered a cardiac arrest while practicing basketball at the University of Southern California (U.S.C.) on Monday. University medical staff treated the younger James, known as Bronny, who is no longer in the intensive care unit and is now in stable condition.

James, 18, will be a freshman at USC this fall. As a new school year begins here in Florida, the cardiac arrest of an apparently healthy young athlete highlights why everyone should learn CPR and how to use an automated external defibrillator (AED), says Dr. Mary Sokoloski.

“Minutes matter when it comes to sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) because the window to save a life becomes smaller with each passing minute,” says Dr. Sokoloski, a board-certified pediatric cardiologist with Golisano Children’s Hospital Congenital and Pediatric Heart Center.

“An AED allows lifesaving measures to be performed on someone in cardiac distress by anyone, regardless of medical training,” she says. “Basic knowledge of CPR and AED can save lives, especially in the event of sudden cardiac arrest.”

READ: James’s collapse and hospitalization an eerie reminder of Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin’s collapse on the field from SCA during a game in January.

Sudden cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death among young athletes in the United States. Approximately 100 to 150 deaths occur during competitive sports events each year in the United States, according to a 2016 estimate by the American College of Cardiology.


What is sudden cardiac arrest?

Sudden cardiac arrest is a condition in which the heart suddenly stops beating. Blood flow stops to the brain and other vital organs. If not immediately treated, SCA can cause death within minutes. But as Dr. Sokoloski noted, quick treatment with a defibrillator may be lifesaving.

“The most common cause of sudden death in athletes in the United States is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (hi-per-TRO-fic CAR-dee-oh-my-OP-a-thee), or HCM,” Dr. Sokoloski says. “HCM is a disease of the heart, with abnormal thickening of the heart muscle, which can cause serious heart rhythm problems and blockages to blood flow. Also, people born with heart defects such as a severely blocked aortic valve or who have severe abnormal heart rhythms are also at very high risk for sudden cardiac death.”

Annual school and sports physicals with EKG screens

Dr. Sokoloski recommends students get annual school and sports physicals to ensure their general health and wellness. For students who are joining an exercise program or playing sports, she also suggests a youth heart screening or EKG.

“EKGs are the most effective way to screen for potential heart risks such as arrhythmia or HCM, which can prove fatal with intense physical activity,” she says. “It’s not necessary to get an EKG every year, either. A comprehensive heart screening including an EKG/ECG can detect most heart conditions that otherwise may go undiagnosed.”

She adds that if your child's medical history or current symptoms indicate a higher risk for a heart condition, your provider will probably want to get a clear assessment of your child's heart health using an EKG.

If your child is presenting any of the below symptoms of a heart problem, consult your child's primary care physician or pediatric cardiologist:

  • Rapid Heartbeat
  • Chest Pain
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Arrhythmia

Free EKG screenings for young athletes

To provide peace of mind to young athletes and their families, Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida offers free EKG testing to middle and high school-aged athletes.

Golisano Children’s Hospital pediatric cardiologists review all EKGs and, if necessary, provide recommendations for further evaluation.

Outpatient Center at HealthPark Commons
16281 Bass Rd., Suite 200 
Fort Myers, FL 33908
Outpatient Center at the Sanctuary
8960 Colonial Center Dr 
Fort Myers, FL 33905
(239) 343-9400
Pediatric Specialists - Port Charlotte
22655 Bayshore Rd, Suite 130 
Port Charlotte, FL 33980
(941) 235-4900

Trust Your Heart to Lee Health

Lee Health Heart Institute has everything you need to take care of your heart health. In alliance with Cleveland Clinic’s Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute, the nation’s leader in heart care, our expert cardiovascular team is the largest and most experienced in Southwest Florida.

Need a consultation or to make an appointment with a Lee Health Heart Care Physician? You can find one here.