|Football legend Willie Gault (l) and NLM director Dr. Donald Lindberg prepare for a panel discussion on the importance of educating the public, and athletes in particular, about the risks of heart disease.
Former Super Bowl wide receiver and gold medal-winning track and field star Willie Gault spoke at a program, “Sudden Death Risks in Young Athletes,” at the National Library of Medicine recently.
Gault, who played in the National Football League for 11 seasons (including 5 for the Chicago Bears), was also a member of the U.S. Olympic track and field team and won gold and bronze medals in the World Track and Field Championships. He was also a member of the Olympic bobsled team. In all of these endeavors, he showed a gift for speed.
Now, however, he is in a race against time to help the 250,000 to 450,000 Americans each year who suffer sudden cardiac arrest. Gault took up the cause after the death of three friends and former NFL players from cardiac-related complications. He has channeled his energy into health education and efforts to provide medical access for everyone by founding the Athletes for Life Foundation.
“We need to change and do the right thing for people not only in America but around the world,” Gault told his Lister Hill Auditorium audience. “We must make a change because our current system is not working. People are dying at a staggering rate; in fact, American Heart Association data show that approximately every 30 minutes, someone in America dies of heart disease.
“We now know that journalist Tim Russert had an EKG test 2 weeks before his death,” Gault continued. “Todd Bell from the NFL had an EKG test 2 weeks before his death of heart disease at age 46. NFL athlete David Little had an EKG test 2 weeks before his death at age 44, from heart disease.” Gault said he could list many other athletes, seemingly in the prime of life and peak of health, and many members of the public who died unexpectedly of heart disease before reaching age 50.
The program was well received by an audience of NIH staff and coaches from high schools in D.C., Maryland and Virginia.