Ryland Burke is a 16-year-old football player at Redwood High School in Marin. Redwood is one of many Bay Area high schools that participates in UCSF's PlaySafe program. Through PlaySafe, athletes like Burke are seen regularly by a UCSF athletic trainer for injuries and to care for them on game day. When PlaySafe offered a free cardiac physical, Burke and some of his teammates took advantage of the screening. At the physical, doctors discovered that Burke had a serious heart condition called Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome.
Dr. Anthony Luke of PlaySafe said detecting heart conditions like Burke's is like finding "a needle in a haystack," but well worth the time because it saves lives.
Did you suspect you might have a heart problem before attending the cardiac screening?
Since 5th grade when I started having heart palpitations and my heart would go about 200 beats a minute, I was obviously worried about it. I didn't know what was happening with it, so when this cardiac screening came up I said, 'Okay, I'll do it, I'll see if they can catch anything. I'll see if it's just me being out of shape or not having endurance, something like that or if my heart is just beating fast or if there is something actually wrong with my heart and I should do something about it.'
Can you describe what went on during the PlaySafe cardiac screening?
They did all the regular things you get in a physical and then I went into another room where they gave me an EKG — it was short, about a minute or two — and then I walked out. They reviewed my EKG and then they saw a pattern that was irregular that needed to be checked out by a cardiologist. They told me to get my mom. So I got my mom and the doctor told me I had Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome.
When you were diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome what were your treatment options?
Once my doctor (Dr. Ronn Tanel) set up the three options — steroid medications for the rest of my life, the defibrillator or the surgery, he said the first two options — the medication and the defibrillator — I wouldn't be able to play sports or do any serious activity for the rest of my life basically. I kind of knew right there that I wanted to do the surgery because I know I would not be able to stand not being able to run, not be able to work out and everything I enjoyed.
Can your heart feel a difference since undergoing the procedure to fix your arrhythmia?
Before the surgery I couldn't do anything for about three or four months and just going from being active like baseball, football, running and all of that stuff and not being able to raise my heartbeat was a big change. Then after the surgery, I think it was 10 days after the surgery, I was cleared to go run and I just exploded. And I just wanted to run right away and it felt great to be running and it makes me appreciate my health and being able to do all of these activities.
What would you tell other kids who are on the fence about going through with the cardiac physical?
I'd encourage everybody to do it because it is a great thing that is offered and it doesn't cost you money, so I don't know why you wouldn't want to go see if anything is wrong with your heart.
How do you feel after this whole experience?
I am very grateful that UCSF is such an advanced hospital and does all of these procedures and has all these systems that can benefit athletes. And it's great that it's right near us. I knew that I could be fixed and I knew that I was in good hands at UCSF.
Interviewed by Kim Wong, November 2011
Photo by Tom Seawell