Wes Leonard: High school star’s cardiac arrest caused by underlying heart condition

Wes Leonard, star of the Fennville High basketball team, died of cardiac arrest brought on by a condition called dilated cardiomyopathy, said the Ottawa County, Mich., medical examiner Friday.

People with dilated cardiomyopathy have enlarged and weakened hearts that cannot pump blood through the body efficiently. In some cases, including Leonard’s, the condition leads to sudden cardiac arrest. Leonard, a 16-year-old junior who had scored more than 1,000 points in his high school basketball career, had just completed a game-winning overtime shot when he collapsed Thursday night.

The American Heart Association has advised that children with dilated cardiomyopathy should not play competetive sports “because of the possibility of a sudden collapse or increased heart failure.”

But many athletes -- including Leonard -- don’t know they have dilated cardiomyopathy in the first place. The condition often goes undetected, said Dr. Steven J. Fowler, a cardiac electrophysiologist at NYU Langone Medical Center. “The people at most risk for sudden cardiac death often have the least amount of symptoms,” he said in a statement.


Indeed, earlier in the week Leonard’s coach told a reporter that the young athlete took “care of his body better than probably anybody I’ve ever coached” and spent “a lot of time on his own in the weight room.”

The Times’ Jeannine Stein reported about studies in 2009 and 2010 that reported benefits in screening young athletes for hidden heart troubles. But some doctors question the practice’s worth, she wrote in this October 2010 report.


The Times reports on Wes Leonard’s death and its cause.

For more on cardiomyopathy from The Times, click here.

Click here for in-depth details from the American Heart Association (PDF).