Bryan Health cardiologists work to clear athletes for Big Ten play

Published: Jan. 13, 2021 at 9:28 PM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - One of the Big Ten’s biggest reservations of bringing back sports this past fall was potential long-term heart effects linked to COVID-19.

It created the Big Ten’s Cardiology Subcommittee, made up of doctors from across the conference including a team here in Lincoln at Bryan Health.

Dr. Mathue Baker from Bryan Health’s cardiology department has been working with Husker athletes for years.

He says in a normal year his patient list of college athletes usually tops out in the twenties, this year that list is well into the hundreds.

The subcommittee is tasked with compiling heart-related data for athletes to meet guidelines set forth by the conference for athletes to achieve clearance.

“Blood tests for a protein called troponin which is a pretty sensitive marker for heart inflammation or damage,” said Dr. Baker. “We did EKGs, fortunately when athletes come to campus they get an EKG so we had a good baseline to compare it to. We did ultrasounds of everybody’s hearts as well.”

From there, his team is in charge of further monitoring COVID-19 positive athletes.

Looking for signs of myocarditis or any other heart-related complication.

“There’s been a pretty consistent trickle of athletes that present with findings of myocarditis,” said Dr. Baker. “It’s not a high percentage but it’s a pretty steady and consistent stream that’s present across the conference as well.”

Dr. Baker says while the baseline testing is the same across all sports. The usage of the heart during physical activity varies across the sports.

“Even within a certain sport it kind of depends on what you do,” said Dr. Baker. “If you’re a goalie in soccer or a thrower on the track team as opposed to a miler or a sprinter it’s a different sort of risk level.”

As for the long-term effects of COVID-19 on the athlete’s hearts, Dr. Baker is optimistic.

“Currently we’ve done enough cardiac MRIs that I feel pretty comfortable saying a vast majority of people who’ve had COVID it does not seem like its doing any sort of permanent damage,” said Dr. Baker. “In terms of scar tissue formation or significant inflammation or things that we would predict would cause problems.”

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