TAMPA, Fla. – It has been a rollercoaster ride of a summer for University of South Florida women’s soccer standout Lindsay Brauer. Upon the senior’s return from the U-23 U.S. National Training Camp, a week in which she dazzled national coaches, she learned of some abnormalities in the results of an EKG during her yearly required USF athletics physical.
An EKG test, short for electrocardiogram, is a facet of the USF student-athlete athletic physical procedure. Brauer’s test came back abnormal, which is not that uncommon in athletes. The abnormalities led to a stress echocardiogram test. Results again showed problems. A third test, a Cardiac MRI, along with the previous test, showed that she had a thickened left ventricle, a heart condition known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, or HCM, is a genetic disorder of the heart distinguished by increased thickness of the wall of the left ventricle, the largest of the four chambers of the heart. The rare heart condition does not allow the heart muscle to perform properly.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a major cause of death in young athletes who seem completely healthy but collapse, sometimes fatally, during heavy exercise.
Over the course of the process, Brauer was examined by the chief of cardiology at USF, Dr. Anne Curtis.
“We decided to seek, at the encouragement of Dr. Curtis, a second opinion,” said USF Head Athletic Trainer Steve Walz. “Lindsay went to Dr. Matthew Hudder, who is an expert on HCM at the Harvard Medical Center. After another series of tests, Dr. Hudder also concluded that Lindsay was at a very high risk.”
Brauer, whose family has a history of the thickened heart walls, personally had no symptoms of HCM. The EKG test was the only way that the problem could be found. USF is one of just a handful schools in the country that use EKG testing as standard practice in their physical procedure.
“Out of the 400 plus physicals we conducted this year, Lindsay is one of the most fit and conditioned athletes that we have at USF,” said Walz. “But she does have a family history of the thickened (heart) walls.”
As a result of the condition, doctors were unable to medically clear Brauer and consequently, Brauer will not be able to play her senior year.
At this time, it is understood amongst medical professionals that if an athlete has HCM, it is best if they do not participate in high intensity activities, such as soccer.
While Brauer can live an active life style with the condition, she is unable to exert herself at the extreme level that she is accustomed to.
“Lindsay will probably live a fine life with little to no complications,” Walz said. “But she is at a high level of risk when she exerts herself.”
Brauer, one of the top players in the program’s history, was primed for a stellar senior campaign after she had an impressive summer where she garnered awards in the W-League and made an impressive showing at the U-23 U.S. National Training Camp.
Although, the more inclusive physical did cause Brauer to prematurely end her career, it may have saved her life.
“The university and its staff can be credited with saving Lindsay’s life,” USF women’s head coach Denise Schilte-Brown said. “They have stepped up their standards in looking for medical conditions with their athletes. Not all universities are doing EKGs on their student-athletes. We are at the cutting edge with that.”
The loss of the Brauer is huge to an already young team. However, Brauer will still be an active member of the team, now as an student assistant coach. Head coach Denise Schilte-Brown understands how difficult it will be to move on, but she knows Brauer will be a key contributor to USF soccer.
“You can’t replace Lindsay,” said Schilte-Brown. “You don’t even try. I am so proud of Lindsay and the way she has handled herself in this tough situation. She has demonstrated such courage and maturity. She is a true inspiration to everyone around her. She is a great player and an even better person.”
The team has designed an emblem as a reminder of Lindsay’s ability to overcome the situation. The insignia depicts the word COURAGE with Lindsay’s number four in place of the letter A.
“Lindsay has been through a lot with us,” senior co-captain Melanie Sutherland said. “She’s dedicated so much to our team. Having her on the field with us was such a great asset. We want to be able to give her something by playing our season in honor of her.”
Upon hearing the news, the team immediately dedicated the 2008 season to honor Lindsay. Schilte-Brown knows her team wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It is something they wanted to do,” Schilte-Brown said. “It was a natural step for the team.”
Players and coaches, alike, look at Lindsay as a symbol of courage and inspiration.
“This dedication is really important to all of us,” senior co-captain Jeanette Dyer said. “She’s an individual that every day she was on the field, she gave 100 percent. That is hard to ask of any player. If we can carry on that courage as individual players, not only is it going to inspire us, it’s going to make us all stronger. Her courage is an inspiration for everyone.”