In an article published in The Signal, a publication of The College of New Jersey, Maximillian C. Burgos tells the story of football player Anthony Cortazzo, who collapsed during a routine track practice in high school, nearly dying from sudden cardiac arrest.
“I was running warmup laps,” Cortazzo said. “And I collapsed, going into cardiac arrest. I was revived with CPR and an AED. It was discovered afterward that I was born with congenital heart defect.”
Cortazzo’s heart defect is a coronary artery anomaly—the #2 cause of sudden cardiac death in young athletes, and something that cannot be detected by EKG but can through echocardiography.
According to the article, Cortazzo experienced no symptoms leading up to his collapse, which is an all-too-common occurrence. For the majority of students who suffer sudden cardiac arrest, the cardiac arrest is the first sign something is wrong.
Cortazzo underwent open-heart surgery to correct the problem, and after a six-month recovery period, he was able to run track and to play football the last half of his senior year.
Cortazzo was able to return to sports after the traumatic experience, but he later admitted that it wasn’t easy. Coming back from what could have been a fatal experience limited his ability on the field and the track.
He now is a defensive lineman for The College of New Jersey’s football team.
“Playing again is awesome,” Cortazzo said. “I love it. I’ve missed it. I definitely feel like I’ve created a bond with the teammates here which is something I missed from high school.”
Congenital heart defects are the most common type of birth defect in the U.S. and include abnormalities in the heart’s structure, electrical system, and other abnormalities that affect the function of the heart. According to The Children’s Heart Foundation, nearly one of every 100 babies is born with a congenital heart defect.
Anthony Cortazzo was born with a coronary artery anomaly but had no symptoms and no idea he was at risk for sudden cardiac death. It took a traumatizing cardiac arrest to bring his disease to light, and he is very fortunate he was able to be revived through CPR and an AED.
An echocardiogram could have identified Anthony’s heart condition before his cardiac arrest, saving him the trauma of experiencing losing life.