Atrium Health staff have volunteered their time to help make sure high school student-athletes are able to compete at their best. Hear what they have to say about Heart of a Champion Day and how the annual athletic screening event has become a part of our communities over the past 10 years.

Child Health | 12 days ago

A Decade-plus of Screening Athletes Leads to Healthier Competition

Atrium Health staff have volunteered their time to help make sure high school student-athletes are able to compete at their best. Hear what they have to say about Heart of a Champion Day and how the annual athletic screening event has been able to serve more than 20,000 student-athletes over the past 11 years.

When Atrium Health launched its free athletic screening program, called Heart of a Champion Day, in 2008, the goal was to ensure high school athletes with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) could safely compete in sports.

Unlike typical athletic screenings, Heart of a Champion Day includes electrocardiograms to detect genetic heart abnormalities that could lead to sudden cardiac arrest during competition – a rare, but potentially catastrophic event.

Atrium Health’s commitment to Heart of a Champion Day has never wavered during the ensuing decade, and neither has the enthusiastic support of volunteers, coaches, athletic directors, parents and the students themselves.

As the program has grown to include other school systems in the Carolinas, we asked a few of our volunteers to reflect on the impact that the program has been able to create.

David Price, MD, Medical Director, Heart of a Champion Day

Question: How did you get involved with Heart of a Champion Day?
Answer: I was part of the founding committee that formed in 2007 to bring this event to the communities we serve in partnership with area schools. It was truly a team effort to bring this event to life, by marrying cardiac screening with physical screenings. I
was part of a similar program – but on a smaller scale in Florida – and always had a passion for engaging with kids in the community and teaching them about staying healthy.

Q: As a volunteer, what has been your favorite part of being involved?
A: I love interacting with the students and our group of volunteers. Seeing the way this effort has evolved over the past 11 years continues to motivate us to make each Heart of a Champion Day event the best it can be to help the community. Through teamwork, and support from
OrthoCarolina, we've been able to weave many specialists from Atrium Health into the day – including athletic trainers, registered dieticians, performance experts, Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute cardiologists, primary care physicians and residents, orthopedists, physical therapists, social workers, and most recently psychologists – in order to make the event truly leave a positive, lasting impact.

Q: What are a few heart-healthy tips that you recommend for athletes?
A: Eat well,
exercise, and listen to your body. Ensure you know your personal and family history, including any heart problems.  Be cognizant of symptoms and let your doctor know if your performance is suffering. And make sure you get your annual pre-participation screening as well as your well-child check from a doctor who knows you best. Symptoms such as unexplained fatigue, passing out or feeling as if you are about to pass out, chest pain and shortness of breath may all be red flags for someone participating in physical activity.

Q: Heart of a Champion Day is serving people in the community by bringing care to them outside of hospital walls at no cost. How do these efforts influence access?
A: Through this program, we've been able to ensure athletic trainers in the high schools are able to connect student-athletes to health providers if they are in need of a physician at any time during the year.

Q: Do you foresee this program growing?
A: We hope to grow, and as we are able to do so, to reach more students with the resources we have and the community's support and involvement. As we've
looked at these resources, we are currently exploring how we can expand this work to improve the health to an even broader population of people. As we've grown, we hope we have improved care for the community and hopefully saved some lives along the way

Rene Herlong, MD, Medical Director, Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute Pediatric Cardiovascular Program at Levine Children’s Hospital

Question: When and how did you get involved with Heart of a Champion? 
Answer: Heart of a Champion Day had been established before I joined the practice. I became involved the first year I was here.

Q: What makes you come back year after year?
A: I very much enjoy all of the interaction with the kids – and knowing how helpful and valuable this program is for them.

Q: What are a few heart healthy tips that you recommend for athletes?
A: Pay attention to what – and how much – you eat. Student-athletes need to eat a well-balanced diet with as many whole foods as possible. They need to avoid processed food, simple carbohydrates and “liquid calories,” like juices and sodas. They need to understand that these things are important for their athletic performance – and not just a doctor’s advice to avoid weight gain!

Q: How are you able to provide the same services in your traditional healthcare sitting in a school or other facility off site?    
A: The efforts to organize the Heart of a Champion Day events take months of planning and organizing from a dedicated staff to be able to serve these young student-athletes and their families. We’re proud and honored to be able to offer the specialized assessments and life-saving care to such a large population at once.

Q: What do you want parents to know about this event?
A: Parents need to know that this event provides important screening for health problems which may not have otherwise been detected. For each encounter we have with a student-athlete, it’s important to have the best historical medical data possible in order to be maximally effective. Parents can help us out tremendously by filling out the family and personal history sections on the forms.

Learn more about Heart of a Champion Day including an FAQ for parents or Register your student-athlete