Michigan High School Star's Sudden Death Raising Screening Awareness

By: Alex Goldsmith Email
By: Alex Goldsmith Email

The building was going nuts. 16-year-old Fennville star player Wes Leonard had just put in the go-ahead layup in overtime. After a defensive stop, Fennville clinched both the game and a perfect 20-0 regular season. Fans poured onto the court and players hugged each other.

Minutes later that same excitement turned to horror.

"I heard someone screaming for me and it was the scream that told me something was wrong," said Ryan Klingler, Fennville's head coach.

Leonard collapsed on the court in the midst of the celebration. He was a victim of a sudden cardiac arrest caused by an enlarged heart. Coaches say there was no sign anything was wrong.

"He took care of his body so well," said Klingler. "He was in great physical shape from what we could see."

And an enlarged heart is something that isn't the easiest thing to see. That's why the Michigan High School Athletics Association updated its medical screening form for high school athletes this year. The new form digs deeper into an athlete's medical history.

"You can find out more about the past, what the history of that young athlete is," said John Johnson, communications director with the MHSAA. "It's much more detailed than ever before."

"We're look to see if there's a history of cardiac arrest in the family or if there's been fainting or near fainting episodes," said Katherine Knoll with the American Heart Association. "We know that if we screen our competitive athletes, we can catch some of these cases ahead of time."

But even with more screening and a more in-depth look at an athlete's medical history, tragedy may still be unavoidable.

"There are things no amount of screening will ever catch," said Johnson.

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