Monday, February 1, 2016

Heart Attack at Tri Camp: A Story for Camp Planners to Remember

by Larry Creswell, M.D.

[Editor's note: This article originally appeared on Dr. Larry Creswell's The Athlete's Heart blog. Because the information is so valuable, we felt it was a good idea to share with the EC readership on the chance that you hadn't seen it.]

I had the opportunity this past weekend to be Camp Director for a USAT-sanctioned weekend triathlon training camp hosted by our local triathlon club, the Mississippi Heat Triathlon Team. We had a terrific weekend of swim, bike and run training along with educational sessions in each sport. The campers included more than 60 athletes of all ability levels and our program included a separate track called Triathlon 101 that was designed specifically for beginners.

I thought I would share a story from the camp that highlights the importance of safety planning for such events.

Our Sunday morning program included breakfast, an hour-long talk about run training, and then a group run. The athletes could choose among 4-, 6-, 8-, or 10-mile groups. We gathered outside in our various groups, each with a coach, had a short briefing about the run, and headed out.

Within sight of the neighborhood clubhouse where we started, one of the campers, a 40-year-old man in the Triathlon 101 group, developed severe chest pain. He stopped and the pain gradually subsided over several minutes. Two of his fellow campers, who were both physicians, tended to him and he walked back to the clubhouse where plans were made to drive him to the hospital for evaluation. As it would turn out, he suffered a mild heart attack, underwent cardiac catheterization, was found to have a severe blockage in one of his coronary arteries, and was treated successfully with a coronary stent. He spent 2 nights in the hospital and is now making a good recovery at home.

We shouldn't be surprised that serious heart disease can manifest in the setting of a group of "healthy" athletes. Heart disease is common even in this population.

Some take-home messages:

  1. Planners of athletic events should be prepared to deal with heart-related medical emergencies. There should ideally be on-site medical professionals as well as easy telephone access to EMS, if needed.
  2. It's important to recognize that transient symptoms of chest pain or shortness of breath can be related to serious heart problems.
  3. Even though there are many health benefits of exercise, athletes assume some finite risk of acute heart-related problems every time they exercise or train.

Larry Creswell, M.D., is a cardiac surgeon and Associate Professor of Surgery at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi. In addition to his regular column on Endurance Corner, he maintains The Athlete's Heart blog to offer information about athletes and heart disease in an informal way and to encourage exchange and discussion that will help athletes build a heart-healthier lifestyle. You can contact him at lcreswell@surgery.umsmed.edu.
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