Jordan Aitchison believes that if clubs and the governing body make small changes to the way they carry out the now-mandatory heart screenings, even more lives could potentially be saved.
Having undertaken this year’s screening under different circumstances to previous years, doctors diagnosed Aitchison with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome – a heart condition that can be cured with surgery.
The diagnosis means the 26 year-old, who has unknowingly had the condition since birth, will now take a break from the game until being given the all-clear from cardiologists to return.
“The routine screening we have every year was held at the beginning of January and, for the first time my ECG was done when my heartbeat has been slightly higher than its resting rate,” Aitchison explained to League Express.
“In previous years, the ECG wasn’t done on a training day, I just went to the club separately to get it done. But this year they were doing them at training.
“Rather than everyone sitting around waiting to be screened, we started training and the doctor pulled out certain people at certain times. We then relaxed for a few minutes to slow our heart rates down slightly before getting it done – and it was a good job it was done this way.
“It was the fact it was done then that flagged it up because previous ECG’s didn’t detect anything wrong, but the raised heart rate showed the abnormality and the club doctor noticed it straight away.
“He explained what it was, what precautions I had to take. Then I saw a specialist, who confirmed the syndrome and explained everything in more detail.
“Once the symptoms had been explained to me, I realised I have been having them the whole time I’ve been playing.
“But I never knew what they were and instead I questioned myself – was it just my fitness, was I not doing enough, was I not really cut out for the sport and that’s why my body sometimes wasn’t doing what I wanted it to.
“All those different scenarios have gone through my head in the past, so it’s a bit of a relief it’s been caught and it does relate back to a lot of previous doubts.
“I’d happily recommend to the RFL, or whoever looks after this aspect, that maybe players get a resting heart rate EGC done, then let them do a bit of a warm up and then do another one.
“Had mine been done at resting heart rate and showed everything was fine, then something happened to me mid-way through the season, the reason would have been unexplained.
“I do believe there could be more people out there with this issue and rather than have then drop out of the game dues to doubting themselves as I nearly did, it gives them reassurance, and is safer for everyone.”
Mandatory heart screenings were brought into League 1 following the death of former Keighley favourite Danny Jones, whose wife Lizzie campaigned for the change.
And for Aitchison, his story highlights the importance of the work Lizzie and the Danny Jones Defibrillator Fund carries out.
“I am one of the lucky ones,” added Aitchison.
“It’s been caught and it’s treatable and after the surgery I will be perfectly fine to play again.
“It’s non-invasive surgery and the recovery time isn’t too long either so I will be able to be back on the pitch this season.
“I have come up through the ranks at Keighley and when I was younger Danny Jones was my mentor, so for his heritage to have helped this diagnosis, things have come full circle.
“The work Lizzie does in phenomenal and I hope this diagnosis really reinforces the message she’s putting out there.”