Doctors recommend slow return to sports for student-athletes over heart concerns post-COVID

BOSTON — Local pediatricians and school districts are now calling for a slow return to sports for student athletes, over heart concerns related to COVID-19. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommend a staged return, with clearance from an athlete’s doctor.

The changes come in part due to a recent study published in the Journals of the American College of Cardiology. Researchers looked at 54 male student athletes with an average age of 19 who had tested positive for COVID-19 at a college in West Virginia.

They found 1 in 3 of those athletes showed heart abnormality on scans, including various levels of heart inflammation. Some of the students with heart inflammation had never experienced COVID symptoms. You can see the whole study here.

“They found that in about a third of those athletes, even including the ones that were not symptomatic for COVID at all, they saw some changes on heart imaging,” pediatrician Dr. Tina Feeley with Chestnut Hill Pediatrics told Boston 25 News.

Dr. Feeley says more research needs to be done to learn the long-term implications.

“Does that go away? Does that actually cause injury to the heart? Are these athletes more at risk? We’re just taking an abundance of caution by saying anybody who tests positive for COVID should be cleared before they return to sports or exercise,” Dr. Feeley said.

“Kids who are in organized sports who engage in high intensity training. These are the kids at highest risk,” said Dr. Gian Corrado with the sports medicine department at Boston Children’s Hospital. “A child that has an inflamed heart, and they sent that child back to play, that increases the risk of sudden death. And those are the kids that we’re really worried about.”

As team physician at Northeastern University, he says he’s closely following the data.

“It’s scary. And we don’t know that much about this virus,” Dr. Corrado said. “Anybody who’s had a fever for one or two days, regardless, if they’re having any symptoms, currently, we’ll get an echo and an EKG to make sure that they’re healthy and ready to go back to play.”

US Snowboard Team member and Shrewsbury native Mikey LaCroix worked with Dr. Corrado on his recovery from COVID this fall.

“I thought it was just like any other sickness, you just get it, you get over it, and you’re back,” the 22-year-old told Boston 25 News. Instead, he followed a slower, 5-stage protocol to return.

“By the time I got through all of the stages, it was about 18 days to the day that I was back on snow, and I also had to get done an echocardiogram, an EKG,” he said.

Doctors Boston 25 News spoke with recommend consulting a cardiologist if an athlete had symptoms, especially trouble breathing.

“You’re not talking about a sprained ankle,” said Walpole Athletic Director Ron Dowd. “You’re talking about your heart and your lungs in the situation. Those are two main things you need the rest of your life.”

Walpole has adopted a 5-stage return to sports protocol. Dowd says, it’s almost like the what’s required to come back from a concussion. Though he admits it’s hard for athletes to take a step back right now, it’s not worth the risk.

“To think about the long-term ramifications of these kids, you know, is scary,” Dowd said.

“Take the recovery seriously, because it seems like a lot. And it might seem like it doesn’t apply to you. But at the end of the day, the risk is really real,” said LaCroix. “If you skip any of those steps, it could be really bad. And then you could go from missing one, one event or one competition to missing a lot more than that.”

Doctors tell us it’s important to test your child for COVID if they are sick, so you know about any potential long-term risks. They say it’s also important to be honest with your pediatrician about all of your symptoms, and test results, so they can be part of your child’s medical records. For more information from the AAP visit their website.

For more information from Children’s Hospital, visit their website.

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