After undergoing open heart surgery to correct an anomalous coronary artery, 16-year-old Romario Dixon is looking forward to getting back on the football field and rejoining his teammates at Academy Sports Club in September.
There were no signs that anything was wrong with Romario’s heart when he went with his coach and teammates to the free athletic heart screening offered by the Ministry of Health earlier this year.
But, as the football community learned in 2012, many cardiac issues are asymptomatic. The February screening, staffed by clinicians from Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute and the Heart Health Centre, was prompted by the untimely death of Gerome “Bird” Graham, 20, last June when he suffered cardiac failure while playing football.
The health screening revealed that Romario had a rare congenital structural defect in which his left coronary artery was in the wrong place.
The discovery shocked Romario and his parents, Robbie and Belinda Dixon. The only thing more shocking was the prospect of open heart surgery.
“The thought of your child needing open heart surgery, it’s every parent’s nightmare,” Mr. Dixon said.The Dixon family traveled to Miami Children’s Hospital for a second opinion. “They did determine that there was definitely an issue with his coronary artery and that it could only be corrected through surgery,” Mrs. Dixon said.
In June, the Dixons traveled to Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City for Romario’s surgery.
The surgery went well and Romario is currently undergoing cardiac rehabilitation at the Heart Health Centre.
He was not allowed to play football after his heart defect was discovered, a fact that Mrs. Dixon said was very hard on her son.
“It was very devastating for him at the beginning,” she said, explaining that Romario has always been a gifted athlete.
“He’s been playing football practically all his life and it’s not that he’s playing just for fun, it’s actually his passion,” she said.
Mrs. Dixon said that Romario has been cleared to start training next month and is eager to start playing again.
The athletic heart screening in February focused on teen between the ages of 15 and 19 who were considered high performance or national level athletes.
The screenings, which would normally cost about $750 apiece, were given free of charge
During that screening, 63 high level young athletes underwent testing and doctors found six abnormalities among those tested, including Romario’s.