A free Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ physical exam revealed a rare heart defect and changed Fairen Sutton’s life.
On June 1, 2013, Sutton – a senior on Butler High’s girls’ basketball team – was one of 1,428 CMS students to participate in “Heart Of A Champion Day,” when students received a free medical athletic screening valued at more than $1,500.
The screenings are conducted by Carolina Health Care Systems and include a review of the athlete’s medical history, a general sports screening, an orthopedic screening, an electrocardiogram, (an echocardiogram, and, if needed, a vision exam and access to a registered dietician.
Each year, CMS – which has about 10,000 high school athletes -- offers this to the first 2,000 rising sophomores, juniors and seniors who apply. Sutton’s physical showed a rare heart defect: partial anomalous pulmonary venous return, a defect in the veins leading from the lungs to the heart.
Eight days after thinking she was having a routine physical, Sutton was having open heart surgery.
“She had too much blood flowing to one chamber of her heart from her lung and they had to correct it,” said her father Mark, an assistant coach at Butler. “We had no clue. She was playing ball no problem. The doctors said there would be no issues now, but later in life it could affect her, especially if she wanted to have kids.”
Sutton, a 5-foot-4 point guard, was forced to miss the summer of 2013 playing travel ball. She lost her appetite after surgery.
“It was tough coming back,” she said. “I was out two months. I was really out of shape. I lost 10 or 12 pounds. In order to make me eat, my mom told I couldn’t play basketball unless I did.”
But by winter, she was back. She averaged 15 points as a junior and is averaging 18 points this season. A 4.0 student, Sutton scored her 1,000th point last week.
CMS athletics director Sue Doran was moved when told about Sutton’s story.
“It’s an unbelievably gratifying experience just knowing the partnership (with Carolinas Health Care) is creating benefit for our student-athletes and their families,” Doran said. “I’m hopeful this program will carry on forever. It’s such a huge benefit that some of these student-athletes wouldn’t have a chance to experience.”
Sutton said she hopes more CMS students will participate in the program. The next one is June 4, 2016.
“Most people my age take (their health) for granted and think it can never happen to them,” she said.