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The Legacy of Gaines Adams

Like many of you, I was stunned at the news that Gaines Adams had passed away as a result of cardiac arrest due to an enlarged heart.  At age 26, and reportedly one of the quieter guys in any locker room, his death comes far too early.  His funeral will be on Friday in South Carolina and both tbe Bucs, Bears, and NFL will be well represented. 

But with his passing, what can we take from this tragic end?  I'm not writing to debate his statistics while in the NFL, or whether he was justified as the 4th overall pick.  I don't want to discuss the amount of money paid to him, or re-review the trade that sent him to Chicago.  None of that has a place right now.  We've all surely documented our thoughts on Gaines Adams the football player, but I believe these is some good that can come out of his death as we focus on Gaines Adams the person.

An enlarged heart does not just pop up over night and it seems to most of us non-medical people (myself included) that this should have been caught at some point.  From my limited research, it appears that an enlarged heart may not signify anything abnormal, but it may give clues as to future complications.  This article from ESPN has some good details in it, which I'll pull over to discuss. 

Speaking in general terms and not about Adams' case specifically, Dr. Robert Bonow, chief of cardiology at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, said an enlarged heart in an athlete is "a normal response to the extra work they do. That's normal."

This is the sobering truth.  Maybe Clemson, the Bucs, the Bears or the NFL all noted this and determined there was no risk. 

As part of the collective bargaining agreement, every NFL player undergoes an annual physical exam that includes an electrocardiagram (EKG) to detect heart abnormalities, typically during the May minicamp. But stress testing and an echocardiogram -- an ultrasound which allows the doctor to study the size of the heart and strength of the heart muscle, but is also more costly -- are typically only done if abnormalities are detected in the EKG.



"Over the last 25 years, the NFL has been doing EKGs when players are drafted and specifically looking for issues [such as HCM]," said Dr. Christine Lawless, on the faculty of the University of Chicago and certified in both cardiology and sports medicine. "It will be interesting to see if when [Adams] went through [the NFL draft] in 2007, whether an echocardiogram was done? This is the general NFL approach … it may provide some clue as to what happened to Adams."

Keep in mind that on any trade, another physical is done, so Gaines Adams had his annual physical, typically in May, another when he was traded, and according to reports, another physical at the end of the year. 

 Even when doing these tests, the results aren't always cut and dry.

Lawless, the team doctor for U.S. Figure Skating and a cardiology consultant to Major League Soccer, said that taking a regular history and physicals of athletes may only detect a disease such as HCM "2 to 6 percent of the time."



"The next step, the EKG, can pick it up 50 to 80 percent of the time, but that can open up a hornet's nest for several reasons," she said. "Can we improve on our already low rate of sudden death in athletes here in the U.S.? Who will pay for the EKGs to be done? Professional teams can afford to do so, but it may be more difficult for the collegiate or high school athletic population."

I'll be the first to admit, when the news broke of his death and the preliminary findings of the autopsy, I was perplexed.  I don't understand how in today's day and age, with the medical advances we have, with teams having trainers and doctors on staff and a litany of machines and tests at their disposal, how this was not caught.  A young man in his prime was cut down, not by drugs, or by human means, but by a medical condition, one that may have been able to be detected had the right tests been done.

I'm not one to argue policy for the NFL, particularly when it comes to subject matter I am not familiar with.  But lately, we;ve seen precautions taken.  When Korey Stringer passed away during training camp, precautionary measures were put in place to prevent the same thing from happening, but only after his wife pushed the effort.  The latest movement has been on concussion related matters.  While those procedures are being set in place to protect players, we now have this issue.  I only hope the NFL looks at this issue as it had the overheating and concussion issues. 

I'm a huge football fan, but while we beckon for the NFL to be a violent sport with hard hitting collisions, the emphasis should be on player safety.  I have no desire to watch a game that won't put in measures to protect players and catch items like this.  Some things that happen on the field are freak occurrences, but when we are talking about off the field issues, practice, training, medical issues, these, while not cheap and maybe not convenient, are much easier to mitigate than on the field issues.

I hope Commissioner Goodell and his advisors take a hard look at what happened with Gaines and begin to consider the protection of players at the cost of some of these tests.  The NFL is a billion dollar "company" and I urge them to set aside a few pennies on the dollar to protect those who make the game what it is today.

And while Gaines Adams may be gone, perhaps this will be his legacy. His death should call attention to potential heart issues that can be prevented or treated.  From all accounts, Gaines was a truly nice individual, one that will be missed.  Gaines the NFL player made impressions on both Tampa and Chicago, but Gaines the person has a chance to now make his mark in every NFL city. 

Thanks for the memories Gaines, and it's my sincerest hope that even though you're gone, your legacy rests with the potential to help others.