CU Boulder Golfer Grateful Routine Physical Revealed Heart Issue
Kelsey Webster left what was supposed to be a routine physical with a diagnosis of a congenital heart defect.
The freshman and Division I golfer returned to her University of Colorado residence hall, Kittredge Central, and informed her new roommates of the diagnosis. At the time, a Sunday in late August, she’d only just met the roommates and was staring down the first day of class of her freshman year.
“It was crazy to me that I had something that has affected me my whole life that I had no idea,” Webster said on a recent afternoon at a Boulder coffee shop.
She’d played basketball and golfed at Fairview High School and had no idea she had Wolff-Parkinson-White, a rare syndrome that caused an extra electrical pathway in her heart and had the potential to kill her. After informing her roommates, she went to tell her parents, who also live in Boulder. They were shocked, she said.
The following Thursday, they met with Sameer Oza, a Boulder Heart cardiologist, and he presented Webster with three options: monitor the condition and risk dropping dead; begin lifelong medication; or undergo a procedure to cauterize the affected area in her heart.
“The part that really made me decide that I wanted to do the procedure was my mom asked Dr. Oza, ‘If this was one of your daughters, what would you do?’” Webster said. “Within a second, he said, ‘I would have her do the surgery.’”
Webster was diagnosed during a day of pre-participation physicals for incoming CU athletes.
CU Athletics and Boulder Community Health have a partnership in which team physicians complete screenings using history and physical examinations for freshman and transfer athletes, and Boulder Heart cardiologists donate their time to complete extra cardiac testing on athletes flagged as being at risk.
“It’s a nice partnership because it’s local, and we’re working with cardiology colleagues who understand the realm of sports cardiology,” said Sourav Poddar, a sports medicine physician and medical director for CU Athletics.
CU Athletics screens dozens of athletes each fall, both incoming freshman and transfers, and a handful of them get additional cardiac testing, according to information provided by Boulder Community Health. Because Webster had a family member who had a heart attack in his 40s, she was referred for an electrocardiogram.
“It’s a way for us to donate our time and efforts to try to make sure that the athletes are as safe as possible,” said Jamie Doucet, a Boulder Heart cardiologist.
Sudden cardiac arrest is the most common cause of non-traumatic death among college athletes because there are several heart conditions that can cause it, including Wolff-Parkinson-White, Oza said. It is more common among young athletes than the general population.
He recommended that all athletes, competitive and non-competitive, be screened using history and physical examinations, as well as additional testing if necessary. If an athlete experiences a racing heartbeat, fainting, exertional chest pain or discomfort, unexplained shortness of breath or unexplained fatigue, that is cause for additional concern, he said.
“While sudden death risk cannot be eliminated, it can be reduced by a well thought out screening program,” Oza said in an email. “We are proud of the services we offer at Boulder Heart and CU Athletics.”
Procedure and recovery
Several weeks after her diagnosis, Webster arrived at Foothills Hospital. Her parents stayed in the waiting room during the procedure, which took nearly four hours.
Her mother, Katherine Ann Cantrell, tears up now when she recalls the surprise of her daughter’s diagnosis, as well as her gratitude that the syndrome was diagnosed before her first season of golfing at CU got underway.
“I was shocked,” Cantrell said. “That was a Sunday that all the players had their physicals at CU, and she came in the door and said, ‘Apparently, I have a heart defect and I have to have heart surgery.’ I think we all had no idea.”
Oza performed a minimally invasive procedure called catheter ablation. Catheters were threaded through the femoral veins in Webster’s leg to her heart, and the team mapped the extra pathway to the left side of her heart and used radiofrequency to eliminate it, Oza said.
Webster was up and walking the next day, and she was able to return to her team’s workouts within several weeks. Although she felt near fainting in the first several workouts, she has since noticed improvements from her workouts before the procedure.
She’s blessed, she said, to have found her way to Oza and to have healed.
“To me, at that time, that was my norm, and that’s what I thought happened when you’re out of breath,” she said. “Now being able to do it and run — we just did conditioning the other day — and I remember finishing the workout and being like, ‘Oh, I’m not that tired.’
“I just feel really good. It feels different.”
Cassa Niedringhaus: 303-473-1106, email@example.com