The heart is the life wire of humans and when it suddenly stops beating, it takes the defibrillator like a fire extinguisher to force it back to life. Yet, defibrillators are rare commodities in major sports stadiums in Cameroon.
“The defibrillator is a monitor with leads. When connected to a patient, it shows the type of rhythm in the patient. There is an indication of the amount of energy to be administered depending on the type of heart beat. After selecting, the paddles give out the energy to treat a particular type of heart beat”, Jacques Cabral Tchoumi, cardiologists at the Shisong Cardiac Centre says.
The sudden deaths of athletes in the field of play have hit news headlines and many wonder if any one could survive such cardiac arrests.
On March 17, Bolton Wonderers player Fabrice Muamba lay with his face down in the field during a match against Tottenham Hotspur with no one by him after he had suffered a cardiac arrest.
He laid quiet, not rolling or screaming in agony, even the way he fell with no contact was an indication it was serious, the match referee Howard Webb said.
The Bolton Miracle Man, as Muamba is now called, is still alive today probably in part thanks to the availability of the defibrillator in the stadium at the time of the cardiac arrest.
Others have not been so lucky.
Cameroonian footballer Marc Vivien Foe died during the Confederations Cup game at the Gerland Stadium in Lyon France, on June 26, 2003 of cardiac arrest resulting from a congenital heart problem.
But, what is a cardiac arrest?
It has been described as an electrical problem in the heart triggered when electrical signals that control the heart’s pumping capacity short-circuit, Christine E. Lawless, a cardiologists and sport medicine doctor in Chicago, consultant for many soccer leagues, says.
She corroborates Tchoumi, who says the heart may suddenly starts to beat faster causing the ventricles to quiver –tremble, instead of pumping blood in a coordinated manner.
This irregular heart beat, called ventricular fibrillation occurs in response to an underlying heart condition that may or may not have been detected.
“It is the ventricular fibrillation that disrupts the heart‘s pumping action and stops blood flow to the body, leading to a cardiac arrest. A person suddenly falls and loses consciousness with no pulse or breathing”, Tchoumi says.
A heart attack arises from a pumping problem in the heart when the coronary artery suddenly gets blocked and stops blood from flowing into the heart causing damage in the heart muscle.
This can trigger an electrical malfunction that leads to a cardiac arrest.
“In such a situation, multiple parts of pacemakers in the heart start beating erratically and the heart cannot rhythmically contract”, Tchoumi explains.
Dr. Ekani Ekani, Kine -therapist with the Cameroon national cadet team maintained that due to intense activity, footballers and athletes are vulnerable to cardiac arrests.
“Athletes are more at risk than others because they put in more physical effort”, he says.
“Due to the activity of the players, athletes can develop a pulse-less heart due to ventricular tachycardia- an abnormal heart beat”, Tchoumi adds.
Doping and other medications taken by athletes not prescribed by the doctor are dangerous for the body as they may eventually penetrate into the heart, Ekani warns.
Information from the Cleveland Clinic indicates that sudden cardiac arrest kills 1-100,000 or 1 in 300,000 athletes, under the age of 35, mostly males.
Michel D’Hooghe president of FIFA’s Medical Committee said information from all national associations indicate that 84 cases cardiac arrests have been registered over the past five years the world over.
Of these, 24 cases survived and a defibrillator was present in 20 cases on the pitch, however in some cases it may not have worked. Without a defibrillator a person can die within minutes.
The survival chance from cardiac arrest is pegged at 80 percent but every minute that passes the chances are reduced by 7-10 percent.
Persons can be saved from cardiac arrests if the medics get there with a defibrillator within a minute, says Lawless.
Given the import of this equipment, D’Hooghe and Jiri Dvorak, Head of FIFA Medical Services, want the national football federations to use a portion of their annual grants from the world body to provide a defibrillator to every senior stadium.
Unfortunately, the Cameroon Football Federation does not have defibrillators for the national teams. It is a rare commodity in Cameroonians stadiums, some doctors have said.
An official of the federation maintained that during international matches one of the medical instruments listed as requirement is the defibrillator. But, this official does not say if it is bought on demand or not.
The federation received a gift of the equipment and it is present during international matches, Communication Person of the Cameroon football Association, Junior Biyam said.
The Federation’s Medical Committee, headed by Dr. Phil Tamo, oversees the medical issues in the federation and is present during international competitions.
But, Tamo like Dr. Abela in charge of the local championship medical team would not respond to confirm that the defibrillators exist in major stadiums.
In the absence of defibrillators, the focus is on prevention.
“It is very important to concentrate on the prevention of cardiac arrests by screening athletes in well-equipped centres like the Shisong cardiac centre”, Tchoumi says.
Unfortunately, most athletes in Cameroon never go for a check-up to know their medical situation prior to football activities.
Though the Cameroon Football Federation has a medical commission and doctors present during training in different categories of the national team, having defibrillators is still a wild dream.
Some doctors have called for a renovation of the medical equipment of the federation, especially the purchase of defibrillators.