Nigerian-born former England international defender Ugo Ehiogu collapsed and died during training at the Tottenham Hotspur grounds last week, once again highlighting the curse of cardiac arrest among footballers.
Ehiogu’s tragic death brought back vivid memories of when Cameroonian anchorman Marc-Vivien Foé suddenly collapsed and later died during a Fifa Confederation Cup match against Colombia in 2003.
Since Foé’s death more than 72 footballers across the African continent have died of cardiac arrest.
“Cardiomyopathy is a condition in which a heart’s ability to pump blood declines because the heart’s main pumps chamber is enlarged and weakened,” said Dr James Sekajugo, the chairperson of the medical committee of Uganda-based Confederation of African Football (CAF) .
“This condition leads to things like fatigue and shortness of breath when you are active or lying down. Other signs are swelling of the abdomen, lack of appetite and pale skin. It’s a chain letter dilated cardiomyopathy which leads to sudden cardiac arrest.”
When asked whether the CAF medical department has heard of a breakthrough by a team of South African scientists, who discovered a gene that causes cardiac arrest in young athletes, Sekajugo said he has read about it but has not made contact with the scientists.
Despite the discovery more than six weeks ago, there have been no inquiries from sporting bodies about how this research can help footballers to survive.
The team of scientists, led by Professor Bongani Mayosi, in collaboration with a global group that included experts from Italy and Canada, discovered CDH2, the gene that predisposes young people to cardiac arrest.
Mayosi, who is dean of the health sciences faculty dean at the University of Cape Town (UCT), said identifying the gene would enable doctors to apply preventative techniques and hopefully save the lives of thousands of people. “We can even implant devices inside your heart to shock you when you have abnormal heart rhythm and prevent you from dying,” said Mayosi.
The gene was found in members of a KwaZulu-Natal family affected by heart disease.
Mpho Mogotsi, spokesperson for the UCT team of researchers, confirmed that, as far as she knew, there had not been any contact from any domestic or continental football organisations since the announcement.
The South African Football Association (Safa) and CAF medical member Dr Thulani Ngwenya said the breakthrough by the UCT researchers was significant and could assist in curbing deaths caused by cardiac arrest.
There has been marked improvements in the fight against cardiac arrests since the death of Foé, with the miraculous survival of Kinshasa-born Bolton Wanderers midfielder Fabrice Muamba, in 2012, being a case in point.
He collapsed on the field but medical personnel were on hand with a defibrillator.
They started resuscitation and delivered two shocks before transporting him to hospital.
Ngwenya said that, in South Africa, prior to the start of every season, all footballers are subjected to a thorough medical examination to ascertain whether there are any conditions that could affect the player’s health. The discovery of CDH2 could go a long way towards reducing deaths on sport fields.