The death of 14-year-old Lewis Simpkins has once again raised questions about whether we are doing enough to prevent sudden deaths in sports.
The sophomore defensive tackle at River Bluff High School stumbled through the end of a 2-hour, 15-minute football practice before collapsing in the locker room on Aug. 10. Coaches gave him CPR and used a defibrillator. Paramedics took him to Lexington Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
Over a recent 20-year period, 243 deaths occurred during high school and college football practices and games. That’s about 12 per season. The most common causes were heart failure, brain injury and heat illness. The cause of Simpkins’ death has not yet been determined.
A recent article in The State newspaper pointed out that South Carolina high schools show poor compliance with guidelines to prevent sudden death. These guidelines come from the Korey Stringer Institute, a leader in research and education to improve safety and prevent sudden deaths for athletes and the military.
In the article, South Carolina High School League commissioner Jerome Singleton noted that he wasn’t familiar with the Institute or its guidelines. He did point out that coaches in this state must complete online courses regarding heat acclimatization and concussions. He also emphasized that the SCHSL reviews its medical policies annually.
Korey Stringer was an NFL offensive lineman for the Minnesota Vikings. He died from exertional heat stroke after an August practice in 2001. His wife Kelci partnered with heat stroke expert Dr. Douglas Casa at the University of Connecticut to create the Korey Stringer Institute. The NFL, Gatorade and other companies and organizations contribute to the Institute’s efforts.
One area of concern for football teams in the South is the heat, with 63 percent of deaths from heat stroke in football occurring in the South. Fortunately, these deaths are largely preventable. Unfortunately, South Carolina does a poor job complying with guidelines that can prevent these deaths.
While North Carolina and Georgia, as well as Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas, meet the minimum best practice guidelines for heat acclimatization, South Carolina only meets one of the seven KSI guidelines. These guidelines include limits to the number and length of practices in the first weeks of summer football and recommendations for gradually adding protective equipment.
South Carolina schools also meet none of the guidelines regarding the use of Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT). The WBGT requires a special device to measure the outside environment for heat stress. It’s likely that the cost of the device plays a factor in our poor compliance, but Georgia meets all nine of the best practice guidelines for WBGT.
South Carolina does somewhat better with access to automated external defibrillators (AEDs) and training in CPR and AED use — meeting five to six of the Korey Stringer Institute’s eight best practice guidelines.
In terms of plans for emergencies like the tragedy at River Bluff, South Carolina again needs work. Of the 11 guidelines issued by KSI regarding emergency action plans — schools coordinating with local EMS, athletic trainers and physicians on-site to develop plans should a medical emergency occur — South Carolina meets none of them.
The South Carolina High School League needs to adopt these heat acclimatization and emergency action plan guidelines. It should work with its high schools and the state legislature to arrange funding for WBGT and certified athletic trainers for each school.
Schools, though, don’t have to wait for a statewide mandate to take action. Concerned parents of high school athletes can talk to the athletic directors and coaches to discuss plans to treat and prevent deaths from cardiac arrest, heat stroke and brain injury.
This isn’t about pointing blame at the SCHSL or the high school athletic directors and coaches around the state. My goal is to raise awareness and encourage change.
As tragic as the sudden death of a high school athlete is, it creates a perfect time to take steps to prevent another one.
Dr. David Geier is an orthopaedic surgeon in Charleston. For more information about football injuries and other sports medicine topics, go to drdavidgeier.com.
Source: The Post and Courier