A football academy for young people has become the first in Scotland to offer players free tests for potentially fatal heart conditions.
Stirling Albion’s Junior Academy will offer screening for all players aged 14 and over in a bid to reduce instances of “sudden death syndrome”, which can include many different causes of cardiac arrest in young people.
Doctors say it is more common among sporty youngsters as they stress their hearts the most, and if they have an underlying cardiac abnormality they are more likely to be at risk. Boys are also more vulnerable than girls.
80 per cent of apparently healthy 14 to 35-year-olds who die from young sudden cardiac death will have shown no previous sign of heart defects.
An ECG (electrocardiogram) test can diagnose most of the abnormalities that can lead to sudden death, however.
Stirling Albion’s Junior Academy has linked with the Ben Forsyth Foundation to offer players a voluntary free test.
The memorial fund was set up following the death of Edinburgh University student Ben, who died aged just 20 last year.
The keen cyclist had given up the sport after being diagnosed with a heart condition.
Forsyth, who raced with Olympic cycling legend Sir Chris Hoy as a member of Edinburgh Road Club, started developing breathing problems during races in 2015.
Doctors suspected he might have asthma, but an MRI scan revealed he has arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC) – a progressive and incurable disease of the heart muscles.
The Junior Academy has donated £5,000 to the Foundation, which wants to help Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY) reduce the frequency of sudden cardiac death by funding screening programmes across Scotland.
The contribution will allow the academy to screen 80 of its own registered players as well as 20 players from Coatbridge side Dunbeth FC, whose player Kieran McDade, 13, suffered a fatal cardiac arrest during training in 2016.
Last year, research by the University of London found the likelihood of sudden cardiac death in footballers is one in 14,700 annually.
Twelve people aged 35 and under die each week across the UK from sudden cardiac problems according to the charity Cardiac Risk in the Young.
Former Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba, who suffered a cardiac arrest on the pitch in 2012, previously called for more defibrillators to be made available at football grounds across the country. Muamba, who retired after the incident, said: “People were able to help me quickly but at lower league it would have been a completely different story. It’s about being able to increase the emergency treatment in the lower leagues.”
Nicola Howieson, Chair of Stirling Albion Junior Academy, said: “Ever since I read about Kieran’s sad death, and then that of Ben, I’ve wanted to do something to reduce the chances of our young players having to suffer these kinds of tragedies. These ECG screenings will do just that.
“There are too many tales of grief, too many families in Scotland mourning the loss of a loved one from these heart defects. This is why we have taken the bold step to support our young players by offering them the chance to take part in the screening programme.”