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Tuesday, June 3, 2014
Morning Roar: Raising money for hearts

By Michael Rothstein

The Lions, lying in wait for the new year ...

WEST BLOOMFIELD, Mich. -- Charlie Sanders began to worry Monday morning. He saw the forecast and rain, the meteorologists reported, was coming.  The success of the third year of his golf tournament could have been threatened by the inclement weather coming.

Then Sanders was handed an email his foundation's Have A Heart Save A Life golf tournament's account had anonymously received Sunday evening and it left the Detroit Lions Hall of Fame tight end choked up.

The email was from the father of a teenage athlete, who said his daughter's doctor went beyond the typical physical for his child and ran a full heart screening. In that screening, she was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy and is now awaiting a heart transplant. Early detection possibly saved her life.

This is the type of awareness Sanders has been fighting for and raising money for the past three seasons with his golf tournament.

"Even just talking to you now, I got chills. I really did," Sanders said Monday before his tournament teed off. "That’s evidence of the effect of what we’re doing is having on the public in general. Because of that you’re allowing kids to grow up in general and go be like Mike [Jordan] or be like LeBron [James] or be like Calvin [Johnson] and that’s the least we can do."

While current and former players -- including Matthew Stafford and Mike Ditka -- golfed for charity, the foundation used the inside of Knollwood Country Club in West Bloomfield, Michigan, to run 50 heart screenings for children. This, Sanders explained, is the new goal.

Make these tests mandatory for children around the state of Michigan. He is in the process of trying to have a bill placed with Michigan's state government.

"We have a few representatives that said bring it to us and we’ll make it a bill," Sanders said. "We’ll institute it as a bill and once you get it in front of people, a lot of good things happen. We’ve actually talked to a representative in Lansing who had experience with exactly what we’re trying to do. It’s not anything that they are not aware of."

Sanders and his foundation has also received support and advice from the Wes Leonard Heart Team, a foundation started in the name of Wes Leonard, the Fennville, Michigan, high school basketball player who collapsed after making a game-winning shot to clinch a perfect regular season in 2011 with an enlarged heart.

His story turned into national news. His family then began a foundation with a different purpose from Sanders but the same goal of saving lives. Instead of pushing for screenings, the Wes Leonard Heart Team campaigned and raised money to put external defibrillators -- otherwise known as AEDs -- in schools.

The Heart Team, along with others, were drivers behind the state of Michigan requiring all schools to have a cardiac emergency response plan in place by July 1. While Leonard's mother, Jocelyn, said AEDs are not mandated as part of the plan for schools, most are finding they will need them when they start putting their plans in place.

She said Monday the Heart Team has placed 105 AEDs in Michigan schools and worked with various Michigan hospitals to place 200 more. For now, the Heart Team remains focused on Michigan, but there is the start of the thought of turning their plan national -- depending on what states need the help. She also pointed to the increase of heart health questions on physicals as saving the lives of hundreds of children.

"We have lots of schools that have heard about us, just their children getting diagnosed with heart conditions and they call," Leonard said. "We just can’t go beyond our state right now but we set them up. We say there are people who can help you out."

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