Tackling heart disease: Former NFL players take part in cardiac health screenings

Former NFL stars screened at NCH

— Dr. Arthur “Archie” Roberts always had two loves: football, and heart surgery. The 68-year-old has fulfilled both dreams.

Even though he only played in one game during his three-year NFL career in the 1960s, Roberts still managed to merge his passions. The former quarterback with the Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins developed The Living Heart Foundation. The non-profit is intended to prevent cardiac health issues in professional football players.

On Friday, 52 retired NFL players, like former Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings linebacker Michael Merriweather, attended a free cardiac screening at the Naples Heart Institute, part of the NCH Healthcare Group.

“They’re taking the necessary steps to keep us going,” Merriweather said about The Living Heart Foundation. “We’re precious commodities. We’re legends of the game, we should be taken care of.”

According to Roberts, whose five NFL completions are overshadowed by his 4,000 open-heart surgeries, football players, particularly those with a large body mass, are at a significant risk of developing heart disease.

During Roberts’ research, he found that many players had already developed the symptoms of heart disease, such as hypertension, diabetes, sleep apnea, high cholesterol and enlarged hearts.

Keith Sims, a former offensive lineman with the Miami Dolphins and Washington Redskins, has unfortunately realized these facts through his teammates’ deaths.

“As a former Miami Dolphin, we had 10 of my former teammates die in 2010,” he said. “Seven of them were strokes, heart attack (or from) heart disease. That’s a wake up call for each and every one of us.”

Four years ago tipping the scales at 367 pounds, Sims heard that call. He attended a cardiac screening in Miami and found he needed to make a change, and he needed to make it fast.

Ultimately, the Iowa State standout took his results to his cardiologist who said he was a perfect candidate for Lap-Band surgery, a weight-loss procedure .

“(The screening) saved my life,” Sims said.

Sims has lost 85 pounds and is now rallying his teammates to join the screenings. On Friday, Sims said, he corralled 10 other players to take part in the testing.

NCH Healthcare System hosted the event for the first time. The screenings included echocardiograms, computed tomography (CT Scan) for coronary calcium scoring, electrocardiogram (EKG), cholesterol, blood pressure, and body compositions.

But more than just been screened, living a healthy lifestyle after the rigorous exercise ceases in retirement is vital, according to Roberts.

“The more you can stay active and watch what you eat, you’re going to live longer,” Dick Anderson, a former Miami Dolphins safety from 1968 to 1977.

While many of today’s younger players hope to follow in these living legends’ footsteps, Sims hopes they’re smarter about what they eat during the season, and off.

“Every player I talk to now, my message is as soon as you’re done playing or in the off season, don’t balloon up,” Sims said. “That’s what I did.”

© 2011 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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