ABU DHABI // Athletes with special needs will undergo regular, free medical tests to enhance early diagnosis and prevent sudden deaths on the field, officials announced yesterday.
The Emirates Sports Medicine Academy will conduct heart, lung and physiology tests for athletes across the country, starting with the 285 disabled athletes registered in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain, in co-ordination with Zayed Higher Organisation for Humanitarian Care and Special Needs.
"One of the biggest problems that targets athletes is sudden heart failure. So there should be regular tests conducted," said Mohamed al Hameli, the deputy chairman of the Zayed organisation.
Polio patients and people with Down syndrome, who often developed holes in their hearts, were most at risk, Mr al Hameli said.
The tests will help physiotherapists assess the maximum amount of exercise athletes should undertake. "Each athlete will have a comprehensive file of his case, which can also be used for participating in international tournaments," said Dr Adel al Shammari, the executive director of the academy.
"We hope that this initiative will urge other organisations for special needs and medical institutes to participate and the programme will be a model for them."
In the past three years, there were four sudden deaths involving people with special needs, said Dr Steve Mosedale, a specialist cardiac physiologist operations manager at the academy.
The most common fatal problems to develop in people with special needs are cardiac arrhythmia, in which the heart starts beating too fast or too slow, and cardiomyopathy, a general deterioration of the heart muscle.
Dr Mosedale referred to a recent case where a disabled athlete who suffered from episodes of dizziness turned out to have cardiac arrhythmia when tested.
"He was immediately stopped from exercising and was sent for treatment. Now he has recovered and is playing again," he said.
Getting athletes with disabilities back into action is a key part of helping them maintain their general health. "Sports helps people with special needs progress and develop a great deal because it transfers them to a new stage," Mr al Hameli said.
Sarah al Senani, 18, a cerebral palsy sufferer who has taken part in shot put and javelin competitions since November, and has participated in several championships, said she had never undergone tests of that nature. "It did not occur to me to do it. It will be very helpful if the academy conducts the tests for us and is responsible for the expenses. It will be very useful to know what type and amount of exercise suits me best," she said.