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Elizabeth Quinn

High School Athlete Wes Leonard Dies of Cardiomyopathy

By March 4, 2011

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Michigan high school basketball star Wes Leonard, collapsed on the court Thursday night after making a game-winning shot. According to the the medical examiner, Leonard died after suffering a cardiac arrest due to dilated cardiomyopathy (an enlarged heart). According to his family 16-year-old Leonard had no known previous heart condition.

Sudden death in young athletes, while rare, is often a sobering reminder of the importance of basic safety precautions for every young athlete who participates in organized sports. While not every death can be prevented, there are precautions that may minimize the risk of death and serious injuries.

What Cause Sudden Death in Athletes?

The vast majority of sudden death in young athletes is an underlying heart condition. Left undiagnosed, intense physical exertion may trigger a lethal cardiac arrhythmia called ventricular fibrillation.

The most common underlying heart conditions for young athletes who die suddenly include hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and congenital abnormalities in the coronary arteries.

Commotio Cordis. This is a rare cause of sudden cardiac arrest from a blow to the chest. Statistics show that this injury occurs more frequently in athletes playing hockey, lacrosse, baseball or football.

Learn more about sudden death in athletes at the U.S. National Registry for Sudden Death in Athletes.


Preventing Sudden Death in Athletes

Athletes can be alerted to any risk factors they may have by undergoing a simple sports physical, and using the right sports safety equipment.

Parents of student athletes may also want to review the following:

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