I just finished my first story for The New Yorker, covering the alarming number of sudden cardiac deaths in college basketball. The data show that even though the overall risks are low, hoops players are two- to four-times more likely to die of sudden cardiac death (S.C.D) than those participating in other NCAA sports.
The story focuses on a basketball player named Kayla Burt, who suffered a sudden cardiac arrest during her sophomore year at the University of Washington. Shockingly, her doctors could not explain why this happened — they could find nothing wrong with her heart. My story investigates the possible reasons why the odds are seemingly against basketball players.
I came across Kayla’s story while reading up on S.C.D. about three years ago. The team physician for the UW Women Huskies, Kim Harmon, along with her collaborator Jon Drezner, had published several papers on the incidence rate of S.C.D. in young people. They found that the overall risk was much higher than initially reported (previous studies pinned the risk at 1:200,000, while Harmon and Drezner found it to be ~1:43,000).