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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  • by Jen Location: Williamston on Mar 8, 2011 at 04:44 AM
    Greg, I find your comments a bit heartless and a little cruel. I don't at all feel this was a "we have to win at any cost" kind of thing. I know many athletes, of all ages, who don't quit participating in their sport because they're sick and taking medication. You're making it sound like you know all about this young man, his family, his coach, etc. and that he was pushed to perform when he wasn't truly up to it. I remember myself back in high school and fighting bronchitis but not wanting to miss participating in the sport I loved, so I rested when I could and still tried to do my best at practice and in competition - FOR ME and not because I was driven to it. Unless you know something we all don't and that this kid was driven like a workhorse by his parents or coach, then maybe you should simply offer your sympathies about a tragic event and hope that better screening can prevent this from happening in the future.
  • by Greg Location: Lansing on Mar 6, 2011 at 07:15 AM
    Not sure what field this article came from. The boy was suffering from a cold, he was taking prescription and OTC medication. Coaches and parents need to understand, when the body is sick, it's already work harder to fight of the illness. Now we throw in a sporting event, and body is working even harder. Elevated heart rate, and side effects from medication seems like loaded gun. To bad, we have to always win at any cost.
  • by Dana Location: Charlotte on Mar 5, 2011 at 07:19 AM
    If screening will help, so will the elimination of caffinated drinks and gatorade. Too much consumption of these products do more harm to the heart, on top of hidden conditions than drugs or obesity.
  • by Kerri Location: lansing on Mar 5, 2011 at 04:55 AM
    My grandchildren played sports all through grade school, middle and high school. they had yearly physicals, but I never thought the heart examination was thorough enough. They should undergo stress and echo testing, among others, before playing on a high school level, just as college & pros do. But, at the same time, I find it odd that his parents were not aware of this, as they should have gotten their own physical done, each yr before he played sports. My daughter did that w/her son, as our family has a history of heart conditions. She knows what his physical condition is or isn't.
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