"It's funny how your life can suddenly take a 180-degree turn. I was recently flying to an HCMA convention in Morristown, N.J., and thinking how a year ago I'd never heard of this disease and was on my way to the Combine. How fast life can change in a year."
-- David Carle
At the 2008 Scouting Combine in Toronto, highly-regarded defense prospect David Carle
was found to have abnormal readings in the electrocardiogram administered by the York University medical staff.
Carle, 19, was referred to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for an echocardiogram that revealed he suffers from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a life-threatening excessive thickening of the heart muscle.
There have been numerous deaths among prominent athletes from HCM. The disease claimed Windsor Spitfires captain Mickey Renaud
in 2008, and former Minnesota Wild
forward Sergei Zholtok
, who died of HCM while playing in his native Latvia in 2004.
Other fatally stricken athletes include basketball players Hank Gathers of Loyola Marymount University in 1990 and Reggie Lewis of the Boston Celtics in 1993. Russian Olympic figure-skating champion Sergei Grinkov died while practicing with his wife, Ekaterina Gordeeva, in 1995. Hungary's greatest hockey player, Gabor Ocskay, retired after an HCM diagnosis in 2004 but returned to play and died in March.
Scores of lesser-known athletes have also died from the disease, perhaps as many as a dozen North American athletes a year, according to some sources.
Carle followed his brother Matt, now a Philadelphia Flyers
defenseman, to Denver University, where he had a hockey scholarship. Mayo Clinic doctors advised him against continuing his hockey career and gave him a health regimen to follow. To its credit, Denver is honoring Carle's scholarship while he serves as an assistant coach.
Carle was contacted a year ago by Lisa Salberg of the Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Association (HCMA) and has become involved in their work.
"It's funny how your life can suddenly take a 180-degree turn," Carle said. "I was recently flying to an HCMA convention in Morristown, N.J., and thinking how a year ago I'd never heard of this disease and was on my way to the Combine. How fast life can change in a year.
"It's all been a process, but it was tough at first. As time goes on, things are becoming more clear and more doors have opened. I try to appreciate the doors that opened and not the one that closed. It gets easier with time. Sure, there are days I think, 'What if?' I just try to appreciate life for what it is."
Carle was thrilled to learn that the NHL has added the echocardiogram this year to its testing at the annual combine.
"I'm happy that they did that," Carle said. "It shows they care about the health and safety of the prospects and it's definitely a step in the right direction."
Carle's father, Bob, echoed his son's comments.
"That's awesome -- excellent," Bob Carle said. "We need to increase the level of testing for all athletes in all sports. There's no doubt it is very scary. We really lucked out. It was a blessing in disguise. David said to me that if he didn't have the skill level to be invited to the Combine and have the doctors do the EKG after raising his heart beat to high level, he would have headed to Denver to play, at great risk.
"He needs to keep his heart rate under 160 (beats per minute) and will get checked every year to see if there is further thickening. It was very humbling to be at the HCMA convention. I talked to a father whose 5-year-old had died and his 7-year-old daughter has a defibrillator in her chest. She was diagnosed at an early age. I met a family whose 17-year-old daughter had a heart transplant."
HCM is genetic and one Web site said up to six percent of the population may harbor the disease, which often is discovered after a bout of arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat.
"The echocardiogram is not a cheap test and this condition can hide from an EKG," Bob Carle said. "The echocardiogram is a great screening tool. It might have saved David's life. I'm happy to have my son. Matthew, David, and their brother Alex, who is 15, are the joys of our life. I wouldn't trade being a dad for anything.
"It's important that other parents of athletes be aware of the possibility of this disease."
For more information, visit the HCMA Web site at www.4hcm.org.
Contact John McGourty at firstname.lastname@example.org