Though spinal cord injuries can have a devastating impact on young football players, heart-related causes and heat stroke actually account for more deaths, according to figures from a University of North Carolina research group.

Though spinal cord injuries can have a devastating impact on young football players, heart-related causes and heat stroke actually account for more deaths, according to figures from a University of North Carolina research group.

Last year, eight middle and high school football players died from heart-related causes, and three died from heat stroke, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Only one young football player died from a spinal cord injury last year, their figures show.

Dr. Ken Lawson, chief of emergency medicine at Brockton Hospital, said these findings underscore the need for athletic officials to keep a close eye on their kids and be well-trained in how to use a defibrillator, which re-establishes a normal heartbeat.

"Most, if not all, schools have (defibrillators) in their facility. The trick is knowing how to start the process to use them," Lawson said. "Like in anything, if you practice it you could be faster."

During certain serious cardiac events, the chance of death increases by 10 percent for every minute until the defibrillator is used, he said.

Football is also not the only sport where heart problems can turn fatal. During one week this past April, two Massachusetts high school students died after collapsing during lacrosse practices.

Medical professionals said heart problems were the likely causes in both cases.
As for heat stroke, all three students who died last year had been playing football outside when the temperature was in the 90s, according the Catastrophic Sport Injury Research center.

Kyle Alspach of The Enterprise (Brockton, Mass.) can be reached at kalspach@enterprisenews.com.