Note to former NFL players: do not “pass” regular health checks

By Ruth Cummins

University of Mississippi Medical Center Communications

Neurology division chief Dr. Amanda Witt, left, and neurology resident Dr. Erin Britt lead former NFL player John Fourcade through exercises to assess balance and motor skills.

John Fourcade has 28 surgeries to show for his years as a quarterback for the University of Mississippi and the New Orleans Saints.

“The elbow, the knee, the shoulder – that’s football,” says Fourcade, a New Orleans resident and ESPN New Orleans radio analyst. “You don’t have to just throw the ball to get hurt. It’s just wear and tear. In progress. »

On Saturday, Fourcade was one of 15 former professional football players evaluated at University Heart at Mississippi Medical Center for cardiovascular, orthopedic and neurological issues, some related to their days of play. UMMCs, also extended to eight of the players’ wives, were offered by the Medical Center in partnership with the nonprofit Living Heart Foundation and its funder, the NFL Players Association.

Nursing school student Kristen Bailey measures the height of former NFL player Stacy Siran of Nashville as part of free health assessments Saturday at University Heart.

Like many people their age, men who played professional football decades ago might not seek regular checkups or care for chronic conditions, or might not know that a long-term health problem could be dangerous. And football being a sport where players suffer repeated blows, some former players may have suffered brain or joint damage that years later remains undiagnosed or undertreated.

UMMC is one of five sites across the country hosting assessments this year, said Scott Perryman, chief operating officer at the Living Heart Foundation.

“We find a lot of early signs of diabetes and hypertension. A lot of guys struggle with their weight,” Perryman said. “We do echocardiograms and ultrasounds. We found thickening of the heart muscle, or that the size of the heart may be in the upper limit.

“In some cases, players will need intervention. We had one who needed open heart surgery and another with a clot in the carotid artery,” he said of past screenings sponsored by the Foundation and the NFLPA. “But more importantly, we identify the lifestyle issues they have.”

Fourcade thinks the reason he drove more than three hours to UMMC is simple. “Why wouldn’t you? ” he said.

“I’ve had a lot of orthopedic visits, but sometimes you don’t see the inside – the head and the heart. I want this back. I did it in 2013 and will do it every chance I get in the NFL.

The Living Heart Foundation was established in 2001 by Perryman’s father-in-law, Dr. Archie Roberts, a retired cardiothoracic surgeon, to combat sudden cardiac death and to provide risk stratification using early intervention for former players who face heart, lung and metabolic conditions. Roberts played for the Cleveland Browns and the Miami Dolphins.

From left, Andre Collins, executive director of the NFL Players Association Professional Athletes Foundation, and Dr. Archie Roberts, creator and president of the Living Heart Foundation, chat during free health assessments for former players on Saturday at University Heart.

The objective: To use the Foundation’s integrated prevention approach to detect disease and intervene early. It allows athletes to avoid chronic, uncorrected medical conditions and increase their adherence to treatment so they can be healthier. The Foundation provides services to specific groups that have traditionally been overlooked, particularly high school, college and professional athletes.

“As a state, we have the highest rate of NFL football players per capita in the country,” said cardiologist Dr. Mike McMullan, one of the event organizers and division director of Cardiovascular Diseases from the UMMC. “There’s definitely a need when we’re the state with the most heart disease and we have players who worry about neurological injuries during their playing time.”

“Our state has tremendous needs, and I’m thrilled the Foundation reached out to us to provide these services,” he said.

Former professional soccer players may be at risk for untreated illnesses and injuries since they’ve been on the pitch, McMullan said. “They’re such big guys to start with, and a lot of them were linemen,” he said. “They could be battling high blood pressure or heart disease. They had a heavy weight on their joints, hips and shoulders.

Another concern is chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a form of brain degeneration sometimes found in people who have played football or other contact sports who have suffered numerous concussions and head injuries. over the years. It is a diagnosis made at autopsy, when sections of the brain are studied.

CTE can produce cognitive, mood, and motor changes, such as difficulty thinking and memory loss, impulsive behavior, depression or suicidal thoughts, or symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

Nursing school student Kirschen Craft jokes with former NFL player Torrence Small of New Orleans as she takes her blood pressure at University Heart.

“Some of the things of concern may be changes in behavior or aggression,” said Dr. Ed Manning, professor in the Department of Neurology. “An isolated concussion probably isn’t going to create any long-term problems, but science still doesn’t know how many head shots or concussions can occur before you worry about the risk.”

Because football players are at great risk for brain damage, McMullan said, “this is a great screening opportunity to assess these people.”

Jackson resident Perry Harrington was running back for Jackson State University and the St. Louis Cardinals. He is dealing with macular degeneration, but has no long standing football injuries to his knowledge.

“This is an opportunity to make sure my health is okay,” Harrington said as he went through assessments, including checks for sleep apnea and nutritional counseling and of well-being.

Has he had a few concussions along the way?

“Anyone who plays football and tells you they didn’t have a concussion… They’re lying,” Harrington said. “They say you see stars when you’re hit hard. I saw a lot of white dots.

Fourcade shared a concussion memory during his evaluation with orthopedic surgeons Dr George Russell and Dr Derrick Burgess.

“I still remember the Minnesota game. I was hit hard and they asked me, ‘Do you know where you are?’ I said, ‘A state of confusion.’

“I came back and threw a perfect touchdown. I threw the ball and it was open.

The problem was that it was Minnesota scoring, not the Saints.

Also profiting from the ratings is Jackson’s Rodney Phillips, who played for the Los Angeles Rams and St. Louis Cardinals. He is president of the Mississippi 178 Alumni Chapter of the NFLPA.

“I haven’t gotten all my results yet, but my blood pressure is pretty good,” he said as he scanned each assessment station. “My weight is out of reach. I had a neck injury that literally ended my career, and I still have spasms and back pain. I recently had carpal tunnel surgery and the other hand was recommended for this.

Living Heart Foundation ultrasound technician Ken Grosse performs a carotid artery ultrasound on former NFL player Andre Collins, executive director of the NFL Players Association’s Professional Athletes Foundation.

“The weather is in my knees and hips.”

Data from all assessments is tracked by the Living Heart Foundation, Roberts said. “We emphasize that if they have abnormal results, they need to deal with it or it could cause problems,” he said.

Andre Collins, executive director of the NFL Players Association’s Professional Athletes Foundation, enjoyed a long career as a linebacker with the Washington Redskins.

“It’s the full spectrum of healthcare happening here today, and we’ve tried to add functionality over the years,” he said. This includes help and resources for emotional or mental health issues, Collins said.

It also includes advice on healthy eating, exercise and maintaining your well-being. Dr. Josie Bidwell, Associate Professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine and Family Nurse Practitioner in Lifestyle Medicine, shared valuable tips on how to create a healthy plate and other do’s and don’ts of nutrition.

“We try to set realistic goals, like maybe adding a serving of fruit each day in an effort to shift the balance from the plate to more plants,” she said.

Each player and rated wives sat down with a vendor to review their ratings before leaving University Heart. They will all receive a letter with treatment and follow-up recommendations.

“We are a close community,” Collins said. “This program has helped ex-players tune in to what’s going on in their bodies. What we find are issues that need to be worked on. We want players to go to their doctor and get checked out.

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