IT was a shocking sight for football fans around the world watching the Confederations Cup semi-final last Thursday night to see 28-year-old, superfit Marc-Vivien Foe collapse while playing for his country, never to recover.
The young, popular football star, universally admired by players and managers alike and a key player for the Cameroon national team, was cut down in front of his family and fans in what is, thankfully, a rare tragedy for elite athletes.
But for young people enjoying sport at lower levels all over the country, sudden death due to cardiac problems is all too common - in fact there are a staggering eight deaths a week in the UK.
And Foe’s death has brought back to the forefront calls for comprehensive screening of children to prevent so-called Sudden Death Syndrome happening on such a destructive scale.
Foe, who spent last season playing for Manchester City, collapsed 18 minutes from the end of the match and was rushed to hospital after losing consciousness. But after 45 minutes, desperate attempts to revive him proved fruitless and the news filtered back to his stunned teammates and fans that he had died.
By Saturday no conclusive cause of death had been announced, although a post mortem examination had ruled out a stroke.
Renowned cardiologist Dr Sanjay Sharm, from the University Hospital Lewisham, says that there are essentially four causes of sudden death in young people. They can either be a muscular problem (hypertrophic cardiomyopathy causes thickening of the heart muscles and prevents the heart pumping effectively), an electrical disease, problems with blood vessels, or damage to the aorta - the heart’s main vessel - which can be caused by an anuerysm, which was being speculated about as a possible cause of Foe’s death last week.
Campaigners believe that if Foe had been subject to the same stringent tests as athletes in many other parts of the world, his vulnerability could have been discovered. And they want these tests to extend to all children to try and wipe out what is one of the biggest killers of under-35s.
Alison Cox, founder and chief executive of the charity Cardiac Risk in the Young (Cry), says: "It is my dream that when every child has their BCG at school they also get a electrocardiogram (ECG) so that any potential problems with their hearts can be traced then.
"The screening programme we do detects problems at a rate of one in 60. These are not necessarily life threatening but could become so if that young person puts too much pressure on their heart. For example a hole in the heart is quite common, but if it doesn’t close up during puberty as it should, then it can be serious if for example that person takes up scuba diving or becomes very active in a sport."
Cry carries out screening with mobile units around the country, and earlier this year the first Cry Centre of Sport Cardiology opened at the British Olympic Medical Centre in London where sportspeople of any standard can be tested. However this is all voluntary, not routine, as campaigners say it should be.
Cox adds: "What we would like to see is the kind of programmes they have in Italy where every athlete representing their country cannot be in the team unless they have cardiac screening on an annual basis. What this means is that they simply do not have deaths like Marc-Vivien Foe’s. That’s the ideal for us. Because it is normal practice it also means that Italians are much more aware of the risks and so screening is much more common."
There have been high profile cases of Sudden Death Syndrome in the Lothians over the past few years and an active campaign to try and introduce more routine screening. Lynne Lewis, the Broxburn mother who suffers from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, has been a vigorous campaigner for a screening programme in West Lothian.
In 1995 17-year-old John Kelsey from Musselburgh died while watching a game of rugby, and in 2000 12-year-old Ronnie Winton died suddenly at home in Currie.
Former Wales international Terry Yorath says Marc-Vivien Foe’s death brought memories of the death of his teenage footballer son Daniel flooding back. In 1992 the 15-year-old, who had just signed schoolboy forms with Leeds, was enjoying a kick-about with his father in their back garden when he collapsed.
Yorath was watching Cameroon’s game against Colombia when Foe crumpled to the floor in the centre-circle. He says: "Nearly every case I read about someone is quoted as saying ‘he was a fit young lad’. It is not only footballers it affects, it is people in ordinary life. If someone is a fit young man, they don’t think it can happen to them."
Yorath would like more stringent tests to be carried out on a regular basis. "When players go back for pre-season they get their weight and their height checked and that is about it. They don’t have regular yearly scans and I think it should be looked at.
"There is far more that can be done to prevent it rather than to look at it when it actually happens."
Campaigners and sportspeople alike will be hoping it will not take another shocking incident like the one they witnessed last week before young people of whatever sporting ability are more effectively protected from such a sudden and tragic death.