Why do healthy footballers suffer from sudden death? A German national team doctor has started to work in collaboration with the ruling body FIFA to create a worldwide databank to track such tragic incidents.
Professor Tim Meyer and his Institute of Sports and Preventive Medicine team at the University of Saarland want to identify the most common causes for sudden cardiac death among professionals – and leisure footballers as well.
Financed by FIFA, they hope to determine some preventative measures from the results.
Meyer, 46, has worked as a national team doctor since 2001 and will be among those caring for Joachim Loew’s team for the fourth time at a World Cup this summer in Brazil.
An online register, Sudden Death Registry (SDR) launched in January, will not be limited to only heart diseases but also include all sudden death incidents among footballers, according to Meyer.
“Ultimately, it’s about checking if there is a football-specific pattern of threats through which specific preventative measures can be taken,” Meyer said of the group’s intentions.
“Whenever a professional footballer collapses in the middle of a game or at training, there is a huge media interest and the general shock is of course enormous.”
Meyer said that of the more than 100,000 Germans who die annually of sudden cardiac arrest, only very few of them die during sports. And in those cases, cardiac death occurred either during or up to one hour after the sports activity.
Meyer has operated a national databank for nearly two years at his institute with the support of the German Heart Foundation. Coaches, athletes, doctors and even spectators can register incidents of death during sports to SCD-Deutschland (Sudden Cardiac Death).
“The risk for a sudden cardiac death is unequally divided among the sexes. About 90 per cent of those affected are men,” said Juergen Scharhag, who will implement the new project.
The register will also provide insight as to if causes of death vary in individual countries.
“In the FIFA-financed project, we do not want to limit ourselves to heart diseases but look at all incidences of sudden death among footballers,” Meyer said.
The various disease patterns will be described in numerous languages on the register’s website so that new cases can be added quickly and easily.
FIFA has been dealing with sudden cardiac death for some time now.
Cameroon international Marc-Vivien Foe died at age 28 of heart failure during a match at the 2003 Confederations Cup. Spanish international Antonio Puerta of FC Sevilla died at age 22 three days after a heart attack during a game.
In addition, German Alex Jueptner collapsed during training with second division side Carl Zeiss Jena in 1998 and died one day later.
The cause of death for the 28-year-old was listed as myocarditis.
FIFA medical chief Jiri Dvorak named the death of Foe a wake-up call.
Meyer, meanwhile, has already been confronted with heart issues as former German international Gerald Asamoah played with the risk of an irregular heartbeat.
Since then a defibrillator must be on site at all professional matches in German stadiums, and FIFA and Europe’s ruling body UEFA have introduced the same measure at their competitions.