A pioneering new health initiative in Preston could help save the life of a local league footballer.
The Lancashire Sunday Football League – in conjunction with its charity partner Heartbeat – is to provide the opportunity for all of its registered players to undergo cardiac testing.
Every week, around 12 apparently fit and healthy young people die in the UK from undiagnosed heart conditions.
With more than 2,200 footballers playing across 85 clubs and seven divisions, the testing programme will be a sizeable one for the league, but chairman Eamonn McNamara says it will all be worth it if just one player is diagnosed with an underlying heart condition.
“People in the age bracket of 14 to 36-year-olds are most likely to be involved in sport,” said McNamara.
“They are the ones which put their hearts under the most stress and if they have an underlying cardiac abnormality they are more likely to be at risk. In most cases there are no obvious symptoms.”
In the past few years, there have been a number of tragic and high-profile incidents involving young footballers in the area. Fifteen-year-old Penwortham Girls High School pupil Melissa Smith tragically died after collapsing on the pitch in October 2014 while playing for Cadley Girls against Euxton Villa.
In 2012, 17-year-old Jordan Grant – who played for BAE and Springfields – died on his way to work in February 2012.
McNamara, himself, had to undergo a medical procedure more than 10 years ago when he was diagnosed with blocked arteries.
“I had my own little heart wobble 14 years ago,” he said. “I thought I was fit and healthy. I had been a referee, but I went to my doctor with a pain in the shoulder.
“I thought it might have been a bit of a table tennis injury, but I got referred and ended up in intensive care.
“They were able to fix me with a double stent procedure. I was a bit different in the fact that my condition was blocked arteries. I had to change my lifestyle. I stopped smoking, I watched what I eat and go to the gym twice a week.
“But my consultant did say to me that if I had left it another week, I would have been a goner. As a league, it’s a pastoral thing for us. We want to give as many of our players the opportunity to get tested.
“Some might not want to, but already we have had a lot of interest and the first five sessions are filling up quickly.”
Heartbeat, which is based at Deepdale, has been working in local communities to raise awareness of heart disease for 37 years.
It provides services for people who are recovering from heart illness or who are at a high risk.
Chief Executive of Heartbeat Jill Rogerson said: “We are excited about delivering this pilot programme with the football league, it is a great opportunity to support more people and raise awareness of heart disease and the devastating effect it has on people.”