In March of 2008 I began treatment for a potentially fatal heart arrhythmia whose cause was unknown. I was fit and healthy, having spent a good part of my adult life as an elite cyclist, much of it racing in Europe.
After 5 years of fence-sitting on the part of my doctors, I have been given a diagnosis of ARVD/C (Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia / Cardiomyopathy). I lack the known genetic markers for the disease as well as some of the structural changes that accompany ARVD/C, and my condition has shown no indication of being progressive (yet).
There is a growing population of current and former endurance athletes who end up with acquired arrhythmias, and a diagnosis of ARVD/C. But by placing these athletes in the ARVD/C patient population, we are potentially ignoring the very real likelihood of an acquired condition, similar, but different, from ARVD/C.
This blog is written as a resource for athletes with acquired arrhythmias, as well as anyone about to undergo endo or epi-cardial ablation, or the implantation of a ICD. It is also written to help generate some critical mass of interest in support of further research into acquired arrhythmias in endurance athletes and others. Feel free to contact me through the comments page if you have any questions or wish to make a written contribution to this blog.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
36 year-old Olympic Canoeist Gyorgy Kolonics Dies of Heart Failure
Part of the purpose of this blog is to provide a resource for endurance athletes with arrhythmias. To that end I will try to keep a running tab of athletes whose cardiac issues have made the news. This past week there was an especially tragic story.
For now it is unclear that a fatal arrhythmia killed Gyorgy Kolonics, a canoeing gold medalist at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics. The media has listed the cause of death as heart failure. Often cases of sudden cardiac death in young athletes -Kolonics was 36 years of age - are due to an electrical problem (i.e. an arrhythmia) rather than a structural one, but rarely is there a follow-up in a premature death like this. Below is an excerpt from an article by John Horvath on www.ohmynews.com which details the circumstances of his death and the fact that there was no defibrillator on site:
"Kolonics... had fainted while rowing and was immediately taken to shore where his coach and teammates desperately tried to resuscitate him. Kolonics died on the scene, however, soon after the ambulance arrived and despite the best efforts of paramedics. Although the precise cause of death is still unclear, what is known is that he died of a massive cardiac arrest.
As tragic as the death of Kolonics has been, there are still many questions left unanswered as to why the tragedy happened. As Kolonics was a professional athlete who participated in many world championships and took part in two Olympics, it is hard to imagine that someone in such great shape could suddenly and literally drop dead. Admittedly, Kolonics was in his mid-30s, which in the eyes of most sport professionals is retirement age. Kolonics himself admitted that he wasn't sure how he would be able to handle the training, but he nonetheless was looking forward to taking part in what he viewed would be his last Olympics as a professional athlete.
When it comes to sport, Hungary has some of the best training facilities and resources in Europe, if not the world. Unfortunately, because of budget constraints some of these facilities and resources are underutilized. Still, the general preparation for athletes is at a very high level. This includes a strict regime for the medical supervision of all athletes. Kolonics underwent his most recent medical tests in April of this year, and the results showed that he was in perfect health. Thus, his sudden death remains puzzling to many.
From the first time a call for help was made, it took about 40 minutes for the ambulance to arrive. To make matters worse, the ambulance that arrived on the scene was not fully equipped and the paramedics were not fully prepared for the task at hand. Later, it was revealed that another ambulance with more qualified personnel was closer at hand and could have made it to the scene much sooner. To make matters worse, a medical helicopter was also available that could have reached the area within 5 to 10 minutes.
Sadly, even during such tragedies politics in Hungary seem to go on as usual. Etele Barath, a member of the ruling Socialist Party and head of the Hungarian Canoe and Kayak Federation, appeared keen to sweep the issue immediately under the rug as he avoided critically appraising what had happened. Subsequently, it was determined that there was no need for an official enquiry. The authorities accepted the official version of the National Ambulance Service that the ambulance arrived 17 minutes after it had received the call. Yet this call was not the initial call; the first call got lost in the chaos of the dispatcher service."