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Inflammatory heart disease possible concern for athletes amid pandemic

We are learning some athletes who had the coronavirus and recovered are now living with a serious health issue. It’s something that can cause lifelong complications, and it’s a topic of discussion as the fall college football season remains uncertain.

FSU President John Thrasher spoke during a roundtable meeting Tuesday to discuss the future of FSU’s fall football season. He said the concern for myocarditis, an inflammatory heart disease, is something being talked about.

“There was one new issue that came out, and that was from a physician apparently that represents the NCAA about myocarditis and the potential impact that would have as a result of COVID-19,” Thrasher explained.

Myocarditis causes inflammation of the heart muscle, which then enlarges and weakens the heart, creates scar tissue and forces it to work harder to circulate blood and oxygen throughout the body.

“It can affect younger people,” said Robert Hawkes, the founder and director of the FGCU physician assistant program. “So these may be athletes that were generally healthy, came down with COVID-19 or perhaps another virus, and now developed myocarditis.”

It’s a topic Joe Rumore knows well since he developed the heart disease in his youth. He is now the president of the Myocarditis Foundation.

“I played basketball in high school, a little bit in college,” Rumore said. “It was in late high school that I started having some problems, where I had a heaviness in my chest and breathing.”

At the time, due to his age and good health, Rumore’s troubles were passed off as lingering symptoms from a virus.

“Without the medical advancements, I wouldn’t be here today,” Rumore said.

The Myocarditis Foundation says the disease most often affects otherwise healthy, young and athletic people from puberty through their early thirties. Men are also twice as likely as women to develop it.

“I was in the hospital a lot, filling up with fluids, wasn’t able to walk, wasn’t able to function normally at all until I had the transplant,” Rumore said. “Once I had the transplant, I had another set of issues.”

Myocarditis is the third leading cause of sudden death in children and young adults and can be caused by a variety of viruses, bacteria and parasites.

“Your immune system is compromised,” Rumore said. “So, with your immune system compromised, there are certain things that you shouldn’t be doing in the normal public.”

Experts say when caught early, sitting out the season to give your body time to recover is the best thing you can do.

“If it’s a virus there is no cure,” Hawkes said. “For a virus, there’s no magic pill we can give to fix it.”

Rumore said one way to determine if you have myocarditis is through a blood test, but you need to ask for a test that checks for the troponin levels in the blood.

“You have to speak up, you have to advocate for yourself.”

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Reporter:Veronica Marshall
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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