Nana Asiedu’s football career is no more. The incoming freshman at Penn State announced Wednesday night that he has a heart condition that will prevent him from playing football again.
“These past couple of weeks have been the toughest time in my life,” Asiedu wrote on Twitter. “I have a genetic heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.”
The disease, which is marked by thickened walls of the heart and ventricular cells arranged in a disorganized manner, is found in 1 in 500 people, according to the American Heart Association. Some people experience irregular heart rhythms, which on rare occasions — often during strenuous exercise — can lead to cardiac arrest.
“You really can’t play football with this condition,” said Dr. Arthur Feldman, a cardiologist and professor at Temple University Lewis Katz School of Medicine. “It’s just too dangerous.”
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in young people is a genetic disorder that often does not produce symptoms. It can be detected with an electrocardiogram (EKG), which is typically done after physicians find warning signs such as chest pain or dizziness, or a family history of heart problems.
Asiedu wrote that receiving the diagnosis was both a curse and a blessing. “This hurts because football was my everything but God has other plans for me,” he said on Twitter.
He came to Penn State from North Stafford High School in Stafford, Va., where he was rated a four-star recruit by three recruiting services.
The condition he has is among the most common causes of sudden death in young athletes, according to a national registry created by the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation. Perhaps the best-known case came in 1990, when hypertrophic cardiomyopathy was blamed in the death of Loyola Marymount University basketball star Hank Gathers, a high school star at Dobbins Tech. In 2015, the condition caused the death of Ryan Gillyard, a freshman at St. Joseph’s Preparatory School who collapsed during spring football conditioning.
Feldman, who has not treated Asiedu, said a standard treatment for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is to implant a defibrillator, which detects whether the heart has stopped and then shocks it back into action. But even with a defibrillator, Asiedu would not be able to play football safely. “The defibrillator sits in the chest,” Feldman explained. “In football, you could dislodge it or break a wire.” The condition is also exacerbated by dehydration, which is common for athletes during a game, he added.
A doctor will have to work with Asiedu to determine what level of physical activity he can safely handle. “The important thing to know is that while this young man won’t be able to play football, there are lots of things that his doctors will be able to do so that he’ll have a normal life,” Feldman said.
Penn State Athletics said it will still honor Asiedu’s football scholarship. “While this is difficult news, we are excited to have Nana continue to be a major part of our Penn State football family,” the department said in a statement.
Asiedu ended his announcement with a note of appreciation. “I just thank God for giving me this opportunity that I will never take for granted,” he said.
— Nana Asiedu (@BigNana_) June 28, 2018