GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM)- A doctor from Helen DeVos Children's Hospital says the condition that has now claimed the life of two star athletes from West Michigan is so rare that only one out of 250,000 athletes dies from it each year.
In March 2011, after the death of Fennville basketball star Wes Leonard, WZZM 13 News spoke with Dr. Ronald Grifka. He said an enlarged heart is usually an indication that the heart has weakened from damage. He said the heart grows in size to pump enough blood to the body.
Grifka said the condition can be genetic or caused by an infection and patients can live with the condition for years. But Grifka said his team's victory on March 3, 2011 may have sent Leonard over the edge.
"Most likely with the joy of the basketball game and all the exuberance of winning, he probably had a big adrenaline rush that sent him into a very fast heart rhythm. That heart rhythm wasn't sufficient enough to help him pump enough blood to his body, which caused him to pass out and have the cardiac arrest," said Grifka.
The doctor says Leonard could have gone into cardiac arrest at any time. He says symptoms of an enlarged heart are similar to symptoms of other childhood diseases, which can make it difficult to diagnose. He says that only 65 Americans die from the condition every year.
The Kent County medical examiner confirmed Friday, March 7 that Ryan Fischer of Grandville High School also died from complications due to an enlarged heart.