BY KUNLE SOLAJA
This Thursday, it is one week since a player of Kwara United, Saka Abdulazeez, slumped unchallenged and subsequently passed on while training. Sadly, he added to the growing list of sudden death situations on the Nigerian field. Below is a list of some obituaries recorded in Nigeria or involving Nigerian elsewhere.
- May 6, 1954: David Omofeye aka “Idi” slumped and died during a Lagos first division match between his club, Railway and Marine. This is Nigeria’s first recorded sudden death on the field.
- February 21, 1974: John Akande, left winger, 22, died at a hospital following a collision with an opponent in a league match at the Olubadan Stadium. He was playing for Shooting Stars which he joined six weeks earlier.
- August 12, 1989; Samuel Okwaraji slumped and died, playing for Nigeria against Angola in World Cup qualifying match in Lagos.
- September 9, 1995: Igweniwari George, Golden Eaglets and Enugu Rangers player and younger brother of Finidi, a Super Eagles player, died in the hospital from gunshot wounds sustained after their FA Cup tie with Super Stores ended with riots at Lekan Salami Stadium, Ibadan.
- October 29, 1995: Amir Angwe playing for Julius Berger against Maxaquine of Mozambique in the African Winners Cup slumped and died.
- September 9, 1997: Tunde Charity Ikhidero died in the hospital following head injury sustained in a league match involving his club, Insurance and Niger Tornadoes in Benin on September 6, 1997.
- August 30, 1997: Emmanuel Nwanegbo died of heart failure playing for German lower division side, SSV Reutlingen
- February 23, 2000: John Ikoroma, a former Golden Eaglets player died of heart attack while playing for United Arab Emirates club, Al-Wahda in Dubai.
- April 16, 2000: Gabriel Anas, a central defender of Iwuanyanwu Nationale collapsed and died.
- July 14, 2001: Charles Esheko, 26, playing in India for Bengal Mumbai, suffered massive cardiac arrest on the field and died later in the hospital.
- August 12, 2006: Boniface Danjuma of Plateau United slumped and died in a league match with city rivals, JUTH, exactly 17 years after similar incident involving Samuel Okwaraji.
- May 26, 2009: Orobosa Adun, the goalkeeper of Warri Wolves slumped and died during a training session.
- March 6, 2010: Endurance Idahor, former Julius Berger and Dolphin striker, playing for Al Merreikh of Sudan, collapsed and died in Omdurman while playing against Amal Atbara.
- September 22, 2010: Habib Faloye and Kunle Oyetola, both Nigerian referees, slumped and died while participating in the Cooper Test, a yearly referees’ fitness programme at the Abuja National Stadium.
- December 12, 2010: Emmanuel Ogoli of Ocean Boys died shortly after slumping in a league match with Niger Tornadoes.
Following the latest recorded death on the Nigerian field, Sammy Wejinya, media officer of Rivers United conducted an interview with Dr. Prince Pambo on a WhatsApp forum, “Nigeria Football Support Platform”.
Dr. Pambo, a sports medicine physician and member of Ghana FA medical committee as well as the CAF subcommittee on cardiology, explained possible causes of athletes suddenly slumping on the field and passing on.
According to the sports medicine expert, “the underlying factor to most of these deaths is cardiac arrest with Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy being the commonest cause.”
He mentioned that more people in the black race than the whites are dying. He explained ‘hypertrophic cardiomyopathy’ as a condition where the heart muscles are thicker than normal leading to a distorted cardiac activity.
“It is imperative to note that conditions such as concussion, hypoglycaemia, dehydration…etc’ can cause sudden collapse on the pitch but they rarely lead to death”, Dr. Pambo explained.
Perusing through available statistics, he concluded that Nigeria has the highest incidence of sudden cardiac deaths.
“The simple reason being that Nigeria has a high population and also a vibrant sports nation. There are triggers to these deaths…but most of them just happen without any triggers.”
He explained cardiac arrest as a phenomenon where the electrical system of the heart is thrown into disarray leading to an uncoordinated beating of the heart.
“The heart is therefore unable to pump blood as it’s supposed to, leading to a cessation.”
He also differentiated cardiac arrest from heart attack which is a circulatory problem. According to Dr. Pambo who is also a CAF sports medicine instructor, FIFA National Project leader for football for health and team physician for Ghana’s Black Stars Team B, “in heart attack there is a blocking of blood flow in the blood vessels ultimately leading to arrest.”
He explained further that “heart attacks are not as sudden as cardiac arrest”. Dr. Pembo explained that heart attack gives warning signs such as chest pain, difficulty in breathing, dizziness and so on.
“Cardiac arrest warning signs are extremely similar to those of heart attack, but the signs are immediately followed by a sudden collapse. Unfortunately for most people, the first sign is actually a collapse”.
He also spoke of possible genetic link. “The statistics lay more occurrences on blacks because their hearts especially West Africans have an exaggerated adaptation to physical activity. They have much thicker heart walls which tends to mimic cardiomyopathy.
“Therefore during screening it is difficult to even distinguish HCM from a normal African adaptation. Also, for most black players, the first time they get screened is when they’re invited to the national teams. At that stage, it is extremely difficult to advise people to give up sports.
“In the case of ‘whites’, they do screening at an early age which makes it easier to identify children with risk factors and then advise them to give up sports entirely.
“As much as these medical conditions cannot be eradicated, it’s important for stakeholders to place a lot of emphasis on pre season medical screening, improve resuscitation skills, and also acquire modern life saving equipment.”
On prevention, Dr. Pambo remarked that the first step will be a well detailed report of the player’s medical history. He advised that certain questions should be examined: “Does he get tired easily when playing? Does dizziness occur? Any family history of sudden death?
“From history we do an ECG to assess cardiac function. We progress to do an ECHO or Cardiac MRI. All these investigations should help diagnose cardiomyopathy easily.”
He also advised on exercising the body. “As much as exercise is good for the heart, any one diagnosed with any heart condition should not exercise without consulting a doctor as not all exercises are helpful.