Alex Ordaz – Electrical Cardioversion Patient Success Story

A routine UIL sports physical uncovers a potentially life-threatening heart problem

An unexpected LIFESAVER

Alex Ordaz, high school football player and cardiac patientFor the thousands of Texas student athletes each year, University Interscholastic League (UIL) sports physicals are nothing more than a task to check off the to-do list in the hustle and bustle leading up to the first day of practice.

Last summer, 17-year-old Alex Ordaz attended a community sports physical clinic sponsored by Methodist Mansfield Medical Center.

“I was working out every day and pushing my body hard, so I wasn’t expecting the clinic to be a big deal,” recalls Alex, a football player at Lake Ridge High School. “I figured I’d get checked out, get my form signed, and be on my way.”

Meeting a community need

Since 2008, Methodist Mansfield has teamed up with Mansfield ISD to offer the annual UIL sports physical and echocardiogram (echo, for short) clinic, which provides low-cost, no-appointment physical examinations for middle and high school student athletes.

More than 300 students took advantage of last year’s clinic, run by volunteer physicians, nurses, and other clinical staff from Methodist Health System.

“All students are required to pass a UIL sports physical to be eligible to participate in school athletics,” explains Alan Taylor, MD, FACC, FACP, cardiologist on the medical staff at Methodist Mansfield who was instrumental in launching the clinic. “We want to ensure that this requirement isn’t a barrier to participation for any kid who wants to play.”

Although sports physicals are important, Dr. Taylor says that they’re not intended to substitute for an annual checkup with a pediatrician.

“The purpose of the UIL sports physical and echo is to screen kids for problems that might make participation in sports dangerous, not assess their overall wellness,” Dr. Taylor says. “Children and teens still need to have a comprehensive checkup with their doctors each year where they can be evaluated for things like growth and development, vaccinations, family medical history, and mental health.”

‘We assumed everything was okay’

Josh Martak, MD, family medicine resident at Methodist Charlton Medical Center, was volunteering at the Mansfield UIL sports physical clinic and evaluated Alex, a varsity football player.

By all appearances, the Lake Ridge High School wide receiver was a picture of health.

“The only time we’d ever had a concern about him was five years ago when he told us he was having chest pains,” recalls Edward Ordaz, Alex’s dad. “But nothing turned up when we had him evaluated, and he never mentioned any further trouble. So we assumed everything was okay.”

Dr. Martak’s job that morning was to screen for heart and lung issues. “The Methodist Mansfield clinic is a well-oiled machine,” he recalls. “We set up an assembly line — half of the volunteers screened for skin, bone, and joint problems, while the other half were on organ system duty. It’s a setup that allows us to see as many kids as possible and efficiently flag anyone who might need further evaluation.”

As soon as he put his stethoscope to Alex’s chest, Dr. Martak noticed that the teen’s heartbeat was irregular. “Sometimes that occurs here and there with kids, though, so I kept on asking questions and finishing the rest of the exam,” he says. “Then I took another listen. There was no doubt about it — his heartbeat was irregular and fast.”

After being evaluated by Dr. Taylor at Methodist Mansfield, Alex was referred to a pediatric cardiologist. The final diagnosis: atrial flutter, an abnormal cardiac rhythm caused by an electrical disturbance in the heart.

“An atrial flutter by itself isn’t life-threatening, but it can lead to complications like stroke and heart attack, which are,” Dr. Taylor explains. “The condition is especially problematic for an athlete, who is likely to put extra stress on the heart through repeated bouts of physical exertion.”

Alex underwent an electrical cardioversion (shock to the heart) to restore his heart to a natural rhythm, followed by a cardiac ablation procedure to correct structural problems that can cause abnormal electrical impulses.

“The whole process was scary, but it helped that we felt very confident in everything that the Methodist Mansfield staff was telling us,” Edward says. “The care that Alex received at the UIL sports clinic and at Methodist Mansfield was superb. We knew he was in the best hands possible.”

Ready for a winning season

Alex Ordaz playing footballWhen his football team assembled for its first workout last summer, Alex was there, just as he’d been every year since he started playing 10 years ago.

“I’ve been surprised at how much easier I can breathe since the surgery and how much my speed and endurance have increased,” Alex says. “Playing football is really important to me, so it’s a real blessing that I was able to fix this problem and keep playing during my senior year.”

Alex’s parents say their son’s story has reinforced their belief in the benefits of annual physicals and checkups — as well as the need for honest conversations about health between kids and parents.

“As events played out last summer, we found out that Alex had actually been experiencing some chest pain over the years, but he had gotten so used to it that he never said anything to us,” says Latonya Ordaz, Alex’s mom. “We’ve talked to him about how important it is for kids to speak up and let parents know if something seems wrong with their bodies or if they don’t feel quite right.”

Adds Dr. Martak: “Having a checkup each year is a must for kids and adults, no matter if you play sports or if you think you’re feeling fine. Annual checkups are one of the best vehicles we have for catching problems early while there’s still time to manage them appropriately.”

“Annual checkups are one of the best vehicles we have for catching problems early while there’s still time to manage them appropriately.”
— Josh Martak, MD, family medicine resident, Methodist Charlton


From spring 2017 edition of Shine magazine