Daily Mail, 15th July 2019
Young competitive swimmer Aron Preece’s parents took him and his sister, Anya, to a free heart screening at their local swimming club two years ago. ‘We never thought they would find any problems,’ said their mother, Kerry. ‘As it was free, it seemed sensible to do.’
Aron and Anya were screened along with 200 other young people at a screening event organised by Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY). The event was funded by money raised in memory of Matthew Dewhirst, a 17 year old rugby player who collapsed and passed away on the pitch due to an undiagnosed heart condition. Anya’s screening took only ten minutes, but Aron’s took much longer.
Eventually his mother was called in and the consultant revealed that they had discovered Aron had an irregular heart beat. He was diagnosed with the potentially fatal heart disease Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome (WPW), a condition which causes the heart to beat too quickly. Only 11 days after this diagnosis, Aron underwent potentially life saving surgery in a procedure which only took around 2 hours. He went home the same day.
‘The vast majority of young people who die from an undiagnosed heart condition have no warning signals,’ says professor of inherited cardiovascular disease and sports cardiology at St George’s Hospital in London Sanjay Sharma. ‘An ECG is the cheapest test in cardiology, yet it’s the most effective in identifying a genetic or congenital condition, with WPW being the most common.’
He continued: ‘In these athletic people who die, it’s not the exercise that kills them — that’s purely a trigger in people who have cardiac abnormalities. We have calculated that one in 300 young people in this country unknowingly has a cardiac condition that could cause sudden death. My aspiration would be to have a national screening programme so those in their teens to early 20s would be tested.’
For his part, Aron was shocked to learn he had a such a dangerous condition and his focus was on whether he would be able to continue swimming.
‘It came as a big shock,’ said the student at Nottingham University. ‘Having heart surgery so young did sound serious, but as I was told it could be cured, I was reassured I could go back to swimming, which was my big concern. After surgery, my heart beating felt funny, but that was it working normally when in the past it had been abnormal.’ He added: ‘I had to have two weeks off swimming, but in August I was back competing at the national championships,’