HSC, Texas Wesleyan University collaborate to return athletes recovered from COVID-19 safely back to playing field

By Diane Smith-Pinckney

Dr. Laine MarkhamSixty Texas Wesleyan University athletes have completed athletic screenings through a new partnership with The University of North Texas Health Science Center (HSC) at Fort Worth.

The project screens TXWES athletes who have had COVID-19 so they can return to sports.

As of Dec. 3, four more athletes were in the process of being assessed and had tests pending.

“We completed the initial round of 44 ECGs, in a 9-day period between Sept. 2 through Sept. 11 with very short notice,” said Laine Markham, MMS, PA-C | Clinical Instructor, Physician Assistant for HSC Health.

The HSC Health Cardiovascular Medicine Clinic is conducting screenings.

If any significant abnormalities are identified, athletes consult with a cardiology provider and get a cardiac MRI.

“The importance of having a cardiac evaluation before returning to high intensity sports is because COVID-19 can cause a condition called viral myocarditis,” explained PA Markham. “This condition leads to inflammation of the heart muscle and can leave tiny scars. These increase risk for dangerous life-threatening heart rhythms and sudden cardiac death.”

Health experts are getting an opportunity to learn more about the virus and COVID-19 recovery.

“There is still much to learn about the effects of COVID-19 on the student-athlete,” said Peter Brock, MSEd, ATC, LAT and Head Athletic Trainer at TXWES. “Ensuring the health and safety of each student-athlete is our highest priority and requiring each student-athlete to complete cardiac testing before returning to competition helps us achieve that goal.”

PA Markham said health workers define “normal” findings in testing based on the average adults. They are learning to interpret how COVID-19 affects the hearts of athletes.

“But the hearts of college athletes are not average hearts which makes abnormal test results more challenging to interpret. Are the outliers due to the patient being an athlete or having had COVID-19? It can be hard to tell, especially when there is no baseline pre-COVID-19 testing to compare to, so we use an abundance of caution.”

COVID recovery has emerged as a national health issue during this pandemic.

PA Markham said weekend warriors or casual exercisers who have recovered from COVID-19 should seek a follow-up from their primary care providers and consider getting an ECG and echocardiogram if they experience new or unusual chest pain, shortness of breath or palpitations they developed following the illness.

HSC Health is also partnering with the Cleveland HeartLab, Inc. as part of the project with TXWES.

“We can’t thank HSC enough for their willingness to partner with Texas Wesleyan Athletics,” Brock said.

The screening team includes Physician Assistant Laine Markham; Geoffrey Kline, DO, PhD cardiologist; Terri Patterson, Medical Assistant; Kendra Hale, Front Desk Representative; Leonora Salazar, Clinic Manager for Cardiology; Tina Hay, Clinical Coordinator; Vicki Cannon, Executive Director of Clinical Services and Joanne Mize, Executive Director of Clinical Operations.

HSC Health is the clinical component of the health science center. Medical services offered by HSC Health include primary care family medicine, geriatrics and pediatrics, along with several specialties, including cardiology, gastroenterology, dermatology, sports medicine and osteopathic manipulation.

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