clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Opinion: UFC and athletic commissions need to test for possible COVID-19 related heart issues

New, comments

The UFC needs to add cardiac testing to its COVID-19 protocol as soon as possible

UFC Fight Night: Eye v Calvillo Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

The UFC has done a great deal to improve its COVID-19 testing protocol since the promotion returned to action in May with a trio of fight cards in Jacksonville, Florida. With that said, it now seems as if the UFC and the athletic commissions it works with should add another battery of tests to its protocol, especially when it comes to fighters, coaches, UFC support staff and media members who have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

In June, Dr. Dermot Phelan, cardiologist and Director of the Sports Cardiology Center at Atrium Health’s Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute, spoke to CBS Sports about how COVID-19 affects the heart.

“This particular virus causes more problems with the heart than any other virus so that’s why we’re being particularly careful,” Dr. Phelan said. “That’s why we’re being more conservative in terms of our recommendations for return to play. We have data from hospitalized patients that show between seven and 33 percent of people will have some cardiac injury after getting COVID-19.”

In late July, Boston Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez was shut down for the 2020 MLB season after he developed heart issues related to COVID-19.

Rodriguez, who is 27, revealed he was suffering from myocarditis.

Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart muscle. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Myocarditis can affect your heart muscle and your heart’s electrical system, reducing your heart’s ability to pump and causing rapid or abnormal heart rhythms.” Signs and symptoms of the condition include, “chest pain, fatigue, shortness of breath, and arrhythmias.”

In severe cases, myocarditis “weakens your heart so that the rest of your body doesn’t get enough blood. Clots can form in your heart, leading to a stroke or heart attack.”

The UFC should take the possibility of myocarditis seriously.

Two UFC athletes, Joanne Calderwood and Trevin Giles both fainted during a recent fight card in Las Vegas.

“Most of the kids I have seen (who have myocarditis) had symptoms,” such as chest pains or palpitations, or they had passed out, Dr. John MacKnight, the head primary care team physician at the University of Virginia told ESPN. “After having them rest for three to six months, you repeat testing. If it’s all normal, they’re clear to go back to playing.”

There is no record of Calderwood or Giles testing positive for COVID-19. However, physicians in Las Vegas advised Giles to see a cardiologist after he was released and returned home.

Numerous UFC fighters have tested positive for COVID-19.

Ronaldo Souza, Gerald Meerschaert, Gilbert Burns, Deiveson Figueiredo, Marlon Moraes, Billy Quarantillo, Anderson dos Santos, Vinicius Moreira, Alexander Romanov, Lyman Good and Pedro Munhoz as well as several members of fight teams have tested positive for COVID 19.

Dr. Matthew Martinez, who is the director of sports cardiology for Atlantic Health System in New Jersey, cardiologist for Major League Soccer and the cardiologist for the New York Jets told ESPN that at least 12 schools from the Power 5 Conferences reached out to him and said they had identified athletes with some post-COVID-19 myocardial injury. Martinez said that not all of those athletes showed symptoms.

A July report on COVID 19 from JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) Cardiology reported:

“Myocardial injury is a common phenomenon in patients with COVID-19, which is the key evidence that SARS-CoV-2 infection can affect the heart. Its prevalence rate was 19.7% in our report of 416 hospitalized patients with COVID-19. Recently, a meta-analysis summarized that at least 8.0% of patients with COVID-19 experienced acute myocardial injury, and the rate was roughly 13-fold higher in patients with severe disease treated in the intensive care unit compared with patients without severe disease.”

ESPN reported that no studies related to COVID-19 and myocarditis have focused specifically on college-age adults or athletes.

Dr. Jonathan Drezner, who is the director of the University of Washington Medicine Center for Sports Cardiology and an advisor to the NCAA, told ESPN he uses a five-step process to assess athletes before reevaluating and then possibly calling for a cardiac MRI.

Bloody Elbow reached out to the Nevada State Athletic Commission to see if it would do additional cardiac testing in the wake of Rodriguez being shutdown by the Red Sox.

Executive director Bob Bennett replied via email:

“NSAC is familiar with the various protocols for professional athletes. At this time there is no plan to change our protocols for Closed System Events/Bubble. We continue to follow the science behind COVID-19 and will consider changes accordingly.”

The UFC did not reply to a request for its plans on possible additional testing.

According to the information listed on the website for the Association of Boxing Commissions and Combative Sports, Nevada does not require a cardiac exam for fighters under 36. Fighters 36 or older have to supply (among other items) an EKG and a chest x-ray.

With concern over myocarditis mounting, the UFC and the athletic commissions need to plan on adding more testing to their COVID-19 protocol, especially if an athlete shows signs of past or present COVID-19 infection.