“A child deserves the right to play sports without the fear of sudden cardiac death. We have the technology to prevent and treat the condition – it is our moral obligation to cause change.”
The quote above is from Stephen Myers, a current student in our Texas Executive MBA program and also the co-founder of the Center for Coronary Artery Anomalies at the Texas Heart Institute in Houston. The Center promotes the awareness, training, screening, and treatment of coronary artery anomalies and sudden cardiac death in athletes, striving to produce experimental evidence that will likely change the way said conditions are viewed by the general public and the medical profession. The research from the Center has been referenced by numerous publications, including the Houston Chronicle, ABC News, and the New York Times.
I recently caught up with Stephen to ask him about his inspiration to found the Center and the process he went through to get it off the ground. Here’s what he had to say:
“My client at the time, Dr Paolo Angelini, a world renowned interventional cardiologist at the Texas Heart Institute, was discussing the story of a child who suffered a sudden cardiac death while playing football. Dr Angelini stated that the death was 100% preventable and 100% treatable. He explained that there is a condition that in most cases does not display symptoms and that often times the first clinical manifestation is death. Detection is done through a simple noninvasive MRI test. The test would detect a coronary artery anomaly and thus the child would be given two options if a positive finding was identified: 1) stop competing in sports or 2) have the surgical procedure which will correct the anomaly and allow the child to participate in sports.
I then started to research the condition along with deaths that occurred that year. I could not believe the amount of sudden cardiac deaths that had happened on the field of play in the US and overseas. As an athlete since the age of 7, which ultimately landed me at Baylor University as a dual athlete as a wide receiver and as a Track and Field athlete competing in the 400M & 800M, I wondered who is looking out for us as athletes knowing that we could die during competition?
Many professional athletes have died from this condition while playing their chosen sport in front of family and fans. Simply YouTube “Sudden Cardiac Death” to view a tragedy. Note – the videos are not for the faint of heart, I do not recommend watching them as it is traumatic to see an individual go through this event (sudden death).
For example in 1990, Loyola Marymount star Hank Gathers died following a dunk and Celtic forward Reggie Lewis collapsed and died during a workout. I thought if they made it all the way to the pros with this anomaly and they were given the best medical attention possible then why was the condition not detected? What is the excuse? What about your average kid that only has a UIL physical?
The UIL outlines the physical exam that a student must have before competing in organized sports while in school. A nurse or a PA can perform the exam. A physician is not required. From my own experience, the UIL physical only consisted of a doctor listening to my heart and telling me to breath in and out. What disturbed me is that an athlete can die from sudden cardiac death during a sporting activity but yet it is not part of the UIL physical. Moreover, in one article a college coach was quoted as stating that eventually enough kids will die for someone to do something, but right now it’s just not cost effective. I thought what if we could offer a system whereby the service is free via donor support or state and/or federal funding. Could we stop a child from dying and prevent a parent from grieving the loss of the child? Yes.
Being an entrepreneur and seeing an opportunity to create change, I asked Dr. Angelini if he would mind reading a proposal that would address the issue. After submitting the proposal, he asked if I would present a formal business plan to the Texas Heart Institute. On August 8, 2008, I presented the model to Doctors Denton Cooley and James Willerson of the Texas Heart Institute. Dr. Cooley is a heart surgeon famous for performing the first implantation of a total artificial heart. Dr. Cooley is also the founder and surgeon in-chief of the Texas Heart Institute as well as Chief of Cardiovascular Surgery at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital. During the meeting, I noticed Dr. Cooley had written all over the business plan so I felt as though he was taking the pitch seriously so I gained confidence in the meeting as it progressed.
At first the proposal was not accepted, but I did not deter and started my own center and raised $1M. After proving the model and the reach of the service, on April 21, 2009, my center joined the Texas Heart institute.
Subsequently, the Kinders of Houston, Texas, donated $5M to start the Center for Coronary Artery Anomalies at the Texas Heart Institute. I would manage the project and the vision for expansion.
To perform the study, we acquired a $2M mobile MRI from Philips and hired staff. For two years, we have been screening at “no cost” middle school kids in the Houston, Texas area, specifically the HISD and FBISD School Districts. We have screened over 3,000 kids and at 5,000 we will publish findings. The initial findings have been extraordinary and will change the way screening and prevention is viewed in this arena. Moreover, the MRI Study is the largest MRI and EKG study in the world. With George Foreman, Hakeem Olajuwon and Sam Madison as spokespersons, we have received a great response from the community.”