In July 2010, Desha Jacobs was at work when she took a phone call that no mother wants to receive: Her 14-year-old son, Elijah, was being taken to the emergency room.

Elijah, a rising freshman at Metrolina Christian Academy in Indian Trail, was preparing to play football, and he had gone to a cardiac health screening at Monroe Mall. Doctors there had detected a heart abnormality and sent him immediately to the hospital for further tests.

Desha was worried: “He’s my baby,” she says, “and I didn’t want him hurting.”

As it turned out, Elijah had a cardiac arrhythmia, an irregular heartbeat. In some cases, those can be life-threatening. Elijah’s wasn’t – doctors were able to treat it with a medical procedure and medication.

Elijah’s case is one of the many positive results from the screening he received, which was part of Heart of a Champion Day – a unique program in the Charlotte area that identifies student-athletes who are at risk of health problems. The in-depth screening that Elijah and hundreds of other teenagers receive each year is possible with the help of generous donations.

The program stems from a significant need: Every year, between 20 and 40 high school student athletes die from non-traumatic deaths – and the major cause is heart conditions. Fortunately, many of these conditions can be easily diagnosed through the use of echocardiography.

Heart of a Champion is the largest, most comprehensive screening program of its kind in the United States. Founded in 2006 as a program serving private schools, it expanded in 2008 into the public school system. In its first year in Charlotte, Heart of a Champion Day brought together over 400 volunteers and provided more than 1,200 student-athletes with a complete, free medical screenings.

The program proved successful, identifying 65 students who had medical conditions that caused their clearance to be deferred or required further evaluation. These conditions included general medical issues, such as high blood pressure, uncontrolled asthma, and vision problems; orthopedic conditions ranging from scoliosis (curvature of the spine), overuse injuries, multiple concussions, and problems from previous injuries; and various cardiac issues. Many of these conditions would not have been detected in the general health screening required for student-athletes.

The program is unique because in addition to a general sports screening, it also provides comprehensive cardiac (electrocardiogram and echocardiogram) and orthopedic screenings for high school student-athletes.

Philanthropy plays an important role in making Heart of a Champion possible. Volunteers donate time. Corporate sponsors, from medical suppliers to restaurants and grocery stores, help with their important donations. The event is a partnership between Levine Children’s Hospital, Sanger Heart and Vascular Institute and OrthoCarolina.

As for Elijah, he was able to play offensive lineman for Metrolina Christian that fall, and he enjoys working out at the gym. His mother is happy with the peace of mind that the Heart of a Champion program gave their family.

“Nobody wants their kid going around with a bad heart,” Desha says. “This program completely caught it, and I’m very grateful for that.”

For more information
To learn more about Heart of a Champion Day, including opportunities to support the program, go to or call 704-355-1955.