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Johns Hopkins Health - Young at Heart

Summer 2012
Issue No. 17

Young at Heart

Date: July 18, 2012

Cardiologist Theodore Abraham is raising awareness about a troubling cardiac condition among youths


Johns Hopkins cardiologist Theodore Abraham, M.D., has a bold plan to reduce sudden cardiac death, which kills more than 3,000 young people a year in the United States, many of them athletes. Often, the cause is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM).

“I saw a lot of young kids come in and have this condition with a high risk for sudden death,” recalls Abraham, who in 2004 launched the Johns Hopkins Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Clinic. “What struck me during these conversations was that they were unaware, even if their own parent had died, that they were at risk. They were completely unaware.”

Abraham believed that a large academic medical center like Johns Hopkins could engage and give back to the community by offering a screening once a year, with a mission to offer young people information they wouldn’t otherwise have access to; use the screening to raise awareness about heart disease in the young; and research HCM.

“The most important thing about HCM,” he says, “is it’s the number-one cause of heart-related sudden death in people younger than 30. It’s very often publicized when athletes die suddenly, and very often the cause is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.”

Three years after launching the clinic, Abraham became a man with a new mission—to lead the ambitious annual “Hopkins Heart Hype” program that provides free heart screenings for local young athletes.

To date, Abraham and a band of more than 120 Johns Hopkins volunteers—cardiologists, physicians, nurses, allied health professionals and laypeople—have screened more than 1,000 young athletes. Abraham has developed a new screening protocol that includes a questionnaire, a blood pressure check, an electrocardiogram, an echocardiogram and an ultrasound to detect five of the most common causes of sudden cardiac death in youths.

Abraham hopes to see the day when every young athlete has a thorough heart screening in addition to a physical before participating in sports, which is a controversial stance because of costs. “We always tell people who are detractors or who challenge us, talk to the parent of the 14-year-old who just died, and find out what price they’d pay for that child,” he says. “The answer lies there.”

Taking Heart

  • Sudden cardiac death is a short-circuit of the electrical system of the heart that can happen without warning and without symptoms of chest pain. It tends to show up between ages 12 and 20.
  • About 5 percent of the athletes whom cardiologist Theodore Abraham, M.D., screens have heart abnormalities, including hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), that require treatment.
  • All athletes diagnosed with HCM are advised to avoid strenuous sports, such as football, basketball, and track and field, and some who are at particularly high risk for sudden cardiac death undergo procedures to have implantable defibrillators placed in their chests to correct life-threatening heart rhythms.

Watch a video of cardiologist Theodore Abraham, M.D., explaining why he established the “Hopkins Heart Hype” program and what his goals are for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy screening. Visit For more information, appointments or consultations, call 877-546-1872.