Like many people with intellectual disability, Zuebeyde Horus, a Special Olympics athlete from Turkey, was living with a serious heart condition, but her caretakers didn’t know – until a volunteer doctor with the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes program discovered it.
“We realized that she had a serious heart murmur, told her trainer that she should not participate in any other sports activity and should be referred to a cardiologist for echocardiographic imaging,” said Dr. Erhan Sayali, a clinical director who organizes Medfest (one of seven Healthy Athletes disciplines) for Special Olympics Turkey.
At a follow-up appointment, Zuebeyde was diagnosed with Atrioventricular septal defect. The condition is a hole between the various chambers and valves of the heart which causes abnormal blood flow and forces the heart to work much harder than it normally would. This type of defect is closely associated with intellectual disability; it is estimated that 45% of children with Down syndrome have some type of congenital heart disease.
Zuebeyde is under observation at the university hospital of the city of Antalya and will be scheduled to undergo surgery to repair her heart in the weeks to come.
“Treatment will effectively double or triple that athlete’s life expectancy — adding 20 to 40 years of life,” said Dr. Matthew Holder, Global Medical Advisor for Healthy Athletes. “I hope other Programs will be inspired by this success.”
This success story is made even more compelling, given that these defects are relatively easy and inexpensive to detect. Zuebeyde’s condition was discovered simply by listening to her heart with a stethoscope.
“I think this one case should be reason enough why Medfest was needed in Turkey and necessary in other countries as well,” Dr. Sayali said.