Elite athletes at the Football Association for Wales’ (FAW) top clubs have undergone an important heart screening process at Vale Healthcare to secure UEFA Club licensing. Without these checks players’ entry into major semi-professional Welsh and European championships is prohibited.
Dr Gethin Ellis, Consultant Cardiologist, recently screened 11 FAW players at Vale Healthcare’s Cardiff Bay Clinic with Electrocardiogram (ECG) and Echocardiogram tests in order to exclude major inherited cardiac abnormalities that may lead to Sudden Cardiac Death (SCD).
UEFA made heart screening compulsory for their players just two years ago following the death of Antonio Puerta who collapsed from heart failure during a Spanish league game. He was just 22 years old and suffered an electrical disorder of the heart, causing his sudden death.Although SCD is a relatively rare event it is almost completely avoidable with appropriate heart screening.
Dr Ellis describes the screening process: “An ECG records the electrical activity of the heart whilst an Echocardiogram (ultrasound scan of the heart) creates a moving picture of the heart providing detailed information on its structure.
“These tests provide a thorough assessment of cardiac structure and function, which would not be achieved with a simple health questionnaire and whilst SCD events are rare, 1 in 200,000 athletes die per year, and these non-invasive procedures can quite literally save a life. The level of importance UEFA has placed on having all their players screened in this way is testament to their commitment to the wellbeing of their sportsmen.”
Andrew Howard, Head of Competitions at FAW, is positive about the heart screening requirement: “We welcomed this addition to the criteria that our players must fulfil to play in UEFA Club championships, particularly because it gives players piece of mind. Their awareness of SCD has heightened with the increased media interest in high profile players, such as Puerta and more recently Daniel Jarque, who both died on the football pitch of their congenital heart abnormalities.
“We are also required to have defibrillators at the side of the pitch, even for training, highlighting again how significant this issue has become in recent years. Our players simply needed 30 minutes with the Cardiologist at Vale Healthcare’s Cardiff Bay Clinic and were able to get their results back promptly.”
Mark Jones, Port Talbot Town Manager, and six footballers from the Welsh Premier League football team were seen by Gethin Ellis in order to gain UEFA approved entry to European competitions. He says: “We were all given a clean bill of health and we got our results back in great time, so our players have been on the pitch giving it their all rather than sitting on the sideline waiting to get the all-clear. The positive test results have given us all that added confidence to get out there and play some of our best football, and it’s been a great start to the season so far.”