Every week in the UK, 12 young people (aged 35 and under) die suddenly from undiagnosed heart conditions. 80% of these young people have no signs or symptoms – which is why the charity Cardiac Risk in the Young (or CRY) believes screening is so vitally important.
Many – although not all – of these young people will be involved in grass roots sport. Whilst sport itself does not cause young sudden cardiac death, intensive physical activity - particularly endurance sports such as rowing, rugby, football and long distance running - can exacerbate an underlying condition.
I’m now involved with CRY following my own diagnosis with a heart condition which forced me to retire last year, aged just 33. As professional rugby player, this news, which saw the end of my career, was obviously devastating.
Yet, I still consider myself to be one of the lucky ones. I’d been able to enjoy a long and full career playing the sport I love, I had a wonderful family and whilst it was a huge shock, my condition was picked up before it was too late, during a routine screening.
But, for so many families who come to CRY in the aftermath of a tragic and sudden bereavement, they weren’t fortunate enough to have been offered screening. The first they knew about their son, daughter or partner’s heart condition was when they collapsed –fatally and without warning.
That’s why I’m lending my support to CRY during its annual Awareness Week this month (22 – 30 November) and helping to raise the profile of its pioneering screening programme, which now tests over 15,000 young people every year.
A very powerful and emotive new film has also been developed for the charity – free of charge - which is available to see on social media and via CRY’s website www.c-r-y.org.uk.
It might be difficult to watch but we can’t shy away from the message – screening saves lives and young people should have greater access to this service if they want to test their hearts, even if just for their peace of mind.
Former England and Bath rugby union player