A heart condition ended his college basketball career. It took transferring to discover it.

Jaylen Brantley, shown last season at Maryland. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
November 26 at 9:00 AM

On the September night his basketball career ended, Jaylen Brantley arrived at his mother’s home in Springfield, Mass., for a family dinner that seemed to have only one rule: There would be no discussion of the sport that had defined his life for 24 years.

They would not talk about Brantley’s obsession with basketball from the time he was a toddler — one of his first words muttered was “shooting” — through his rise as a high school prospect in the Boston area. They would not talk about his nomadic path through college basketball, which took him from Marshall to a junior college in Texas to Maryland and finally to Massachusetts, where he transferred for his final year of eligibility to be closer to home this past spring.

And they certainly wouldn’t talk about the news that was delivered earlier that afternoon, when a doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital told Brantley that he had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition in which heart muscles become abnormally thick and can make it difficult for the heart to pump blood. Brantley stood stone-faced as the doctor explained this would end his playing career.

“I didn’t know what to say,” he said. “I was really just confused of how fast the game was taken away from me.”

In the days after, as Brantley began to comprehend his new reality, he was grateful just to be alive. He was also struck by the fact that had he not transferred to U-Mass. last spring, he might never have known about a condition that could have killed him. It was first discovered through an electrocardiogram (EKG) test by U-Mass. team physicians during a routine physical before the start of preseason practice.

Brantley also found that his condition was at the center of what has become a national debate. U-Mass.’s physical screening protocol requires that all athletes receive an EKG test, which evaluates the electrical activity of the heart, but that is far from the norm in major college athletics.

According to the NCAA, roughly half of the 65 schools in the Power Five conferences conduct EKGs. The NCAA’s chief medical officer, Brian Hainline, recommended in 2015 that all college basketball players be given EKGs — only to later backtrack on that announcement and draw protest from more than 100 team physicians across the NCAA.

Sudden cardiac arrest among NCAA athletes has long been a simmering concern; it certainly has been in the national conscience since 1990, when Loyola Marymount star Hank Gathers collapsed during a game and died of a heart attack resulting from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

Advocates believe EKG testing is a crucial and accurate measure to prevent sudden cardiac arrest; opponents argue that many schools do not have the resources to commit to accurate EKG testing. The American Heart Association has not endorsed uniform testing because sudden cardiac arrest among young athletes simply isn’t prevalent enough.

“Some places don’t have the resources to read [EKG’s] correctly. If you read them correctly, there’s a very low false-positive rate. You’re still going to miss some things. But some people and places just don’t have the resources to do that,” said Kim Harmon, who is the head physician for the University of Washington football team and has researched sudden cardiac arrest for much of her medical career. “The fact of the matter is it is really, really unlikely that you’re going to find something that is going to kill people” based off only a patient’s history and a routine physical.

The risk of sudden cardiac death in Division I men’s college basketball players or African American men’s basketball players at any division is as high as 1 in 5,200, according to a 2016 report commissioned by the NCAA that was led by a task force of cardiovascular and sports medicine experts, student-athletes and athletic trainers and published in the Journal of American College of Cardiology. That report also found that 1 in 9,000 men’s basketball players have an exertion related sudden cardiac arrest risk, which is higher than any other athlete group

“If you think it’s important or you have a high-risk group, you need to do more advanced screening,” Harmon said.

But the report stopped short of recommending that all schools use EKGs to test athletes, underscoring the debate over the tests. Another contentious issue is the risk of false positives on EKG screening.

In a statement to The Washington Post this past week, Hainline stood by the report.

“The NCAA believes that the pre-participation exam should be consistent with” the 2016 report it commissioned, the statement read. “This document provides a pathway for a comprehensive cardiac evaluation but also recognizes that electrocardiogram screening remains an imperfect science.”

Brantley has educated himself more on those risks since his diagnosis, and other people with the condition have reached out in support. Brantley did not undergo EKG testing at Maryland, where he was a backup guard for two seasons, and has not experienced any symptoms over the course of his life. Maryland officials did not specify to The Post why they have not adopted EKG testing as part of their initial physical protocols, but athletic department spokesman Zack Bolno said in a statement that the school’s athletes could be referred for compulsory heart testing if their screening warrants such a step.

“All of our student-athletes go through a comprehensive medical examination and follow-up visits with our team physicians. As medically warranted, diagnostic testing will be conducted for any of our student-athletes,” Bolno said.

It took nearly two weeks and an exhaustive process in September for Brantley to receive a diagnosis; after the EKG at U-Mass. revealed an irregularity, he was referred to a cardiologist at Holyoke Medical Center. The cardiologist suspected he had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, but it wasn’t until Brantley received an ultrasound and MRI exam on his heart at Massachusetts General that the condition was confirmed.

“My heart sunk, and tears just streamed down my face. My soul was just ripped out of me because I knew his dream could possibly be over,” said Brantley’s mother, Angela Cayode. “We are forever grateful for U-Mass. for giving him the test. There are no hard feelings with Maryland. We loved Maryland. He had a great time at Maryland. We feel like Jaylen coming to U-Mass., it was a godsend because if he didn’t come to U-Mass., we wouldn’t have known.”

Brantley said he believes that all universities should use EKG tests for athletes, and he hopes that his circumstances will help bring awareness to a long-standing medical conundrum in the NCAA. In the meantime, he remains on scholarship at U-Mass. and has taken a leadership role with the program, which he hopes will jump-start a career in coaching. It has been difficult over the past few weeks for Brantley to watch the Minutemen begin their season without him.

“But everything happens for a reason,” he said. “I think this happening really saved my life.”

October Officially Designated National Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness Month

The federal government has just named October “Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness Month,” an official national observance. A coalition of nonprofit organizations working to prevent and treat sudden cardiac arrest urges the public to prepare for this life-threatening condition by exploring heart-screening options, learning CPR and how to use automated external defibrillators, and encouraging more widespread deployment of AEDs.

In September 2008, the 110th Congress passed a concurrent resolution supporting the goals and ideals of “National Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness Month,” and declaring October as the observance month. Since then, many health organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have referred to October as National Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness Month. However, the date was not officially added to the National Health Observance Calendar until this month. Now, thanks to collaboration among several nonprofits including the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation, it’s official: The federal government has declared October “Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness Month,” an official national observance.

An ad hoc coalition of national nonprofit organizations worked together to achieve this goal. They include:

  • American College of Cardiology
  • American Heart Association
  • Children’s Cardiomyopathy Foundation
  • Heart Rhythm Society
  • Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Association
  • Mended Hearts
  • Parent Heart Watch
  • Sudden Arrhythmia Death Syndromes Foundation
  • Sudden Cardiac Arrest Association
  • Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation
  • Women Heart.

According to the coalition, “Sudden Cardiac Arrest is the leading cause of death in the United States, taking the lives of more than 350,000 people each year. Anyone can experience Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA), including infants, children, teens, young adults and people in their 30s and 40s who have no sign of heart disease, as well as more mature adults.

“To survive SCA, the victim must receive life-saving defibrillation from an automated external defibrillator (AED) within the first four to six minutes. Every minute that passes without a shock from an AED decreases the chance of survival by 10%. Administering hands-only cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) can be a bridge to life until an AED arrives.

“There is a critical need to raise awareness of sudden cardiac arrest and educate people about prevention strategies and how to take immediate action in the case of a cardiac emergency.”


Big Hearts-EKG Screening at Westfield HS, 9/23/17

By: Technician Sharron Cayere
Fire Station 23, West Annandale, A-Shift

Recently, several off duty members from Fairfax County Fire and Rescue (FCFRD), volunteer members of FCFRD, personnel from Fire Station 15, Chantilly, and many neighborhood helpers took part in a free heart screening at Westfield High School. The screening was put on by The Ryan Lopynski Big Heart Foundation in honor of Westfield High School graduate Connor Bouveron. Ryan and Connor both passed away from undiagnosed heart abnormalities.

Ryan’s parents created the foundation to raise awareness about Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) and to save lives. The goal is to annually test as many children as possible in an effort to detect heart abnormalities.

At the Westfield screening a total of 220, 12 through 26 year olds were screened. Four heart abnormalities were detected by the cardiologist on site! That is four individuals who were not previously aware they had a potential heart issue that could cause SCA. They can now seek appropriate medical care to address their condition.

To date the foundation has screened 3846 people and have detected 224 abnormalities! For further information, and future screenings, go to: http://ryanlopynski.org/

Never Forget You

This music video with the song entitled, “Never Forget You” by Zara Larsson, was created by Erin in memory of her best friend and older brother, Ryan.  I am posting this video to commemorate Ryan’s 8th Angel Birthday from his departure on 4/26/09. A heartfelt and powerful video, it is 4 minutes and 26 seconds long.

“Never Forget You” by Erin Lopynski and Ron Sun

A little background about Erin’s singing…

Erin, has been humming and singing since she was born.  Be it the shower, dinner prep, bedtime, road trips or just hanging out on a Saturday afternoon, Ryan’s sister would always sing in her fun-loving way.  Her tone, her pitch her tempo…it all came naturally. I suggested voice lessons in grade school, but her music instructor insisted that she was too young and should wait until her voice matured.  She never did receive voice lessons to perfect her constantly evolving angelic tone, but that did not stop her from singing.

Erin was invited to sing at church during the holidays, solo’s during  high school choir performances, at wedding ceremonies, and even on the cruise ship during our family vacation when she was selected to sing at the finale musical.  Erin was discovered at the ship’s Karaoke Bar, and asked to sing, “Hit Me Baby One More Time” by Brittney Spears. They gave her the outfit to perform in, and of course she had already memorized the words from childhood. She rocked it in front of an audience of over 1000 people!

We all envisioned Erin to become the next American Idol as we watched the early shows judged by Simon Cowell. She would belt out a song during a commercial, while standing on the ottoman pretending to be a contestant.  So it was not surprising years later that she met up with her friend and videographer, Ron Sun, who asked her to star in his music video.


EKG Screenings Can Protect Young Hearts

The Lopynski family is dedicated to providing EKG screenings for our youth, to honor the legacy of our son, Ryan. In this video parents tell their stories of the reality of Sudden Cardiac Arrest. Let us all be advocates of preventing SCA before it is too late.

One in 300 youth have an undetected heart condition that can put youth at risk for sudden cardiac arrest. But most youth don’t report or recognize symptoms, and EKG screenings are not yet part of well-child or pre-participation sports exams. Parent Heart Watch parents share the stories of their lost youth to help other families avert the tragic loss of life. Take the prevention promise and support our vision to eliminate preventable deaths and disabilities from SCA in youth by 2030.

Parent Heart Watch culminated Heart Month with the debut of
EKG Screenings Can Protect Young Hearts
a short video highlighting the importance of EKG screening
coupled with heart health history and physical examination to protect youth from sudden cardiac arrest and death

Why Aren’t we Doing More to Protect Young Hearts?

Take the Prevention Promise and learn
why we need to screen our youth!

Ryan Lopynski Big Heart Foundation screens kids for heart problems

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — 8News teamed up with the Ryan Lopynski Big Heart Foundation Saturday to make sure your children are heart healthy.

Free heart screenings were given today to catch early warning signs, something that is not usually tested for in children otherwise considered healthy.

8News spoke with Jeremy Lopynski, the mother of Ryan Lopynski who died of sudden cardiac arrest from an undiagnosed heart problem nearly eight years ago. Now she and her husband have devoted themselves to preventing the same from happening to others.

“About 1,000 kids die a day from sudden cardiac arrest,” Jeremy said.

Saturday’s event, which was held at the University of Richmond, gave families a chance to test their kids for cardiac abnormalities, something that isn’t included in a child’s normal yearly physical.

“We go around to different high schools and colleges, screening students from 12 to 26,” Jeremy continued.

8News also spoke with Dori Pierce, a volunteer at the event. She spoke about her admiration for the Lopynski’s.

“I love that they give back and search for something that can truly help people learning if they do have a cardiac condition so they can tend to their cardiac health,” Pierce said.

One parent agreed.

“They gave us something to follow up on, but they don’t think it’s anything serious, but they said we should follow up on it,” Andy Girvin said.

Ryan Lopynski Big Heart Foundation offering free heart screenings

So far, the screenings have saved lives.

“Two kids, individual kids have had to have surgeries with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome … it was very serious,” Jeremy said about the results of previous screenings. “And to this day they say, wow, you’ve saved my life, and we try to do that as often as we can.”

To date, the foundation has screened 3,500 people. Jeremy said that they have caught an abnormality every time they have held a screening.

“Every day I miss my son,” Jeremy said. “It’s difficult every day, but this brings my husband and I joy, it really does. We don’t want this to happen to any other family.”

Jeremy Lopynski, Ryan’s mother said if she could, she would do this full time.


Hundreds of area teens receive free heart screenings

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — 8News is taking the lead with the Ryan Lopynski Big Heart Foundation to offer free heart screenings to young people in the Richmond area.

The event is taking place Saturday from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. at the University of Richmond.

8News anchor Kristin Smith reported live from the event at the Weinstein Center for Recreation and Wellness located at 28 Westhampton Way, Building 23b, Virginia 23173.

“The Ryan Lopynski Foundation. That family saved my life,” Robbie Arwood said.

Kristen said that this is the second year that the event has been held and that organizers are expecting more than 250 teens to show up to get their hearts checked.

The project all started with a dedicated mom and dad from northern Virginia who are on a mission in memory of their son.

18-year-old Ryan Lopynski died from an undetected heart condition nearly eight years ago. But his parents still feel their son’s presence every day, they said.

“Our little angel in heaven for sure,” Ryan’s mom Jeremy Lopynski said. “He’s always reaching out to me and my husband. Just to give us the energy, to give us encouragement.”

Since Ryan’s death, the Lopynski’s have worked to save other young people’s lives. Their Big Heart Foundation offers free EKGs to teens across the Commonwealth.

“On one hand, you don’t want a child to have a problem,” Ryan’s dad John said. “On the other hand, for us, catching a child who has a problem where he or she doesn’t realize they have a problem is very gratifying.”

The Lopynski’s foundation has checked the hearts of nearly 3,500 teens so far, including Robbie Arwood who had to have life-saving surgery after a screening detected a rare heart defect.

“The Ryan Lopynski Foundation. That family saved my life,” Arwood said.

In Richmond last year the foundation screened about 240 teens, a handful of them were referred to experts with potentially dangerous heart problems.

It’s not the kind of news a parent wants to hear, but the Lopynski’s will tell you the alternative could be a devastating loss you never overcome. That’s why their passion pushes them to help others in their son’s memory.

“Ryan’s been there every step of the way really, and it makes us feel good when we’re doing something to save another family,” Jeremy said.

The Lopynski’s are at the event at the University of Richmond going on today. The event will be free to any young person between the ages of 12 and 26.

Getting To The Heart Of Sudden Cardiac Arrest

Submitted by SCAFoundation on Thu, 01/26/2017 – 12:00am

Olympic skater shares his heart-stopping experience and what you should know about new implantable heart devices

Even a fit and healthy professional athlete can suffer from sudden cardiac arrest—but a look at Olympic skater Paul Wylie’s story may help to shed some light on what you need to know about the latest advancements in implantable heart devices that protect against sudden cardiac arrest and treat other irregular heart rhythms.

In 1992, Wylie won the silver medal in men’s figure skating at the Winter Olympic Games. After the Olympics, he joined the professional skating ranks, winning the 1992 U.S. Open Professional Championship and the 1993 World Professional Figure Skating Championships; he then toured with Stars on Ice for six years before retiring.

Today, at 52, Wylie remains an avid skater, skier and runner, and continues coaching and performing. But in April 2015, he collapsed suddenly while running with friends. Luckily, one of his workout partners started CPR immediately.

Upon arrival, paramedics were able to resuscitate him. He was then put into a medically induced coma for several days. Wylie was shocked when he woke and learned that he had suffered sudden cardiac arrest, an abrupt loss of heart function that can result in death if not treated within minutes. In fact, approximately 95 percent of sudden cardiac arrest cases are fatal, claiming more than 450,000 lives annually in the U.S.

“Once I was conscious, it took days to get my head around the fact that I was so close to death—in fact, that I had died—and just how fortunate I felt to have had the circumstances be what they were,” said Wylie.

After surviving sudden cardiac arrest, Wylie knew he had to look at ways to avoid another episode in the future. After researching options, he chose a device called an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), which continuously monitors his heart. If a dangerous and potentially life-threatening heart rate is detected, the ICD sends a lifesaving electrical signal to correct it.

Wylie is now feeling great and recovering nicely. He is skating and coaching regularly, while hitting the gym and running again. However, he is not able to get an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan. Due to the potential harmful interactions between the magnet field and his implanted heart device, he is not able to have this important diagnostic scan that helps to diagnose various conditions including stroke, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and muscle, bone and joint pain.

“I worry because I am so active and have had MRIs in the past, so I know this could become an issue in the future,” said Wylie. “I think it’s important that people know to ask their doctor about heart devices that are MR-conditional, meaning they can allow for MRI screening.”

When he is ready for his next device, Wylie won’t have to decide between the lifesaving protection he gets from his ICD and the option to have an MRI scan. The U.S. FDA recently approved an entire suite of implantable cardiac devices that allow for MRI scans. These devices include pacemakers, ICDs, insertable cardiac monitors and cardiac resynchronization therapy defibrillators.


Read more about Paul Wylie here.

Northern Virginia works to prevent sudden cardiac arrest among student-athletes

By Dana DiSante

Photo svetavo/Adobe Stock

Photo svetavo/Adobe Stock

Sudden cardiac arrest, though commonly associated with adults over 40, is a rising concern among high school- and college-age student-athletes. As a result, the condition has grabbed the attention of local and national health organizations, the NCAA and Northern Virginia’s own George Mason University.

Though often confused with heart attacks, sudden cardiac arrest is different in nature. Blocked arteries cause heart attacks, but SCA is the result of an irregular heartbeat that interferes with the heart’s ability to pump blood through the body.  Likewise, heart attacks stop blood flow whereas SCA changes the rhythm of blood circulation throughout the body, which can cause severe damage to the brain, heart and internal organs.

The NCAA teamed up with leading cardiac health organizations to discover the underlying cause of SCA and found that the condition impacts one in every 40,000 student-athletes. It often presents itself in young adults with an inherited heart illness, which could go undetected due to an absence of symptoms.

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, people affected by SCA can die within minutes of the start of an episode. As indicated by the name, it happens quickly and often without any warning, which is why preventative treatments and monitoring are essential.

Living a heart-healthy lifestyle is foremost in preventing SCA. Staying active and fit and eating a clean, preservative-free diet help reduce risk. Likewise, regular monitoring and heart health screenings, or electrocardiograms, can help detect cardiac arrest symptoms before an episode happens.

SCA has garnered attention locally, too. In 2009, Fairfax teen Ryan Lopynski died due to an enlarged heart at just 18 years old during his freshman year at Virginia Tech. His family went on to create the Ryan Lopynski Big Heart Foundation in his memory to raise awareness about the condition. The foundation hosts free EKG screenings, including a recent event at George Mason in September. The Lopynski foundation joins other national organizations such as the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Association, Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation and SADS Foundation in this effort.

Learn more about The Ryan Lopynski Big Heart Foundation’s work, future events and prevention and detection tips here. Next, the foundation will head to Newport News on Nov. 19 for another free EKG screening event.

Credit goes to: Northern Virginia Magazine  & Photo svetavo/Adobe Stock


What Would You Miss Most?

Parent Heart Watch

Published on Feb 10, 2017 by Parent Heart Watch

Sudden cardiac arrest in youth is not rare. It’s the #1 killer of student athletes and contributes to the #2 medical cause of death under 25, and is the leading cause of death on school campuses. The vision of Parent Heart Watch is to eliminate preventable deaths and disabilities from SCA in youth by 2030. These Parent Heart Watch parents share their personal story of loss to help parents understand the critical need to protect young hearts.