Doctor Describes Condition that Caused Grandville Athlete’s Death

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KALAMAZOO, Mich. (March 7, 2014) — FOX 17 spoke with a pediatric cardiologist at Bronson Children’s Hospital who described the details of the condition that took 17-year-old Grandville High School star athlete Ryan Fischer ‘s life.

Doctor James Loker said that the condition, called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy causes an irregular heartbeat, which in result stops the blood from flowing in the body.

It’s very similar to the condition that took another west Michigan athlete’s life, Wes Leonard in 2011.

Ryan Fischer, 17 was the captain of both the hockey and football teams at Grandville High School.  Fischer was seemingly healthy before dying in his sleep.

Dr. Loker said that hypertrophic cardiomyopathy can often go undetected.

“He’s had this condition for a long time. This is not something that suddenly occurred overnight. This is a genetic disorder. It can run in families, so you look at genetic history of other family members,” said Dr. Loker.

Dr. Locker said that the condition, often times referred to as “enlarged heart” is common in as many as one in every 100 student athletes.

“What’s happening is that the wall of the left ventricle is thicker than normal, so it’s not that the heart is necessarily larger, it’s not necessarily an enlarged heart, but the wall is thicker,” said Dr. Loker.

That abnormality then causes the heart to beat irregularly and stops blood from flowing, which can ultimately cause the heart to stop beating.

“The majority do not have any symptoms until their cardiac event. The majority of cases with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy that present this way, their first episode is sudden cardiac death,” said Dr. Loker.

Patients can be diagnosed through EKG and echocardiogram testing after experiencing symptoms that include blacking out while exercising or severe chest pain, but most sufferers don’t experience any symptoms at all.

“The big thing is look at your family history. Is there other family members with sudden cardiac death, and bring that to your physician’s notice,” said Dr. Loker.

It’s been three years since the similar death of Wes Leonard. Leonard collapsed on the court during a basketball game at Fennville High School in 2011. Dr. Loker said that two conditions are similar,  but Wes’s may have been harder to detect.

“With Wes, even if we did an echocardiogram on him and EKG, we probably would not have picked it up,” said Dr. Loker.

Dr. Locker stresses the importance of having automatic external defibrillators in schools, which isn’t required by law. Dr. Loker said that having one on hand can save a person’s life as long as it’s used within 10 minutes of going into cardiac arrest.

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  • Brooke Flanders

    Just for the record, it is Dr. James Loker. He is our daughter's cardiologist and a very good man. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family. This really hits home, since we have a child with known cardiac issues – makes me grateful for everyday.

  • Lynn

    Our thoughts and prayers go out for the Fishcher Family as well. Our daughter was 17 when she went for a follow up doctor appointment after failing her high school physical in the gym. The PA suspected a heart murmur so our pediatrician, who barely heard it, sent us for an EKG and Echo. It wasn't the EKG that was suspicious but the echo revealed an enlarged septum. After further testing and an evaluation at the U of M Cardiology Clinic, she was diagnosed with Hypertropic Cardiomyopathy – HCM. It affects 1 in 500 people. We are thankful that it was through God's Grace that our daughter was diagnosed. She did not have any prior symptoms and was a competitive swimmer for 13 years. Consequently, her athletic swimming came to an abrupt stop but we are thankful each and every day for God's watchful hand over her. This has hit our daughter especially hard but she knows that she has been blessed and continues to be a spokes person for HCM. Hug your kids and give thanks.