By Anita Rannoba
When Botswana lost two athletes, Gofaone Tiro and Leatile Setabosigo in the successive months of April and May last year, the warning signs should have been seen.
Lessons should have been learnt. Both athletes, who were in their prime and looked healthy, collapsed and died at training. But as it is, the lessons were never learnt.
Fast forward a year later and Botswana is mourning again, this time, the untimely demise of 400m track athlete Omphemetse Mokgadi. As with Tiro and Setabosigo, Mokgadi, who was just 32 years and in his prime, collapsed and died while at training on Monday 13th November this past week.
“This is the first time that our track athlete has collapsed and died in this manner. This was not expected. Mokgadi looked healthy and physically fit while at training,” a distraught Botswana Athletics Association (BAA) Public Relations Officer (PRO) Ipolokeng Ramatshaba said. “This is a wakeup call to the federation,” he declared.
According to the BAA PRO, save for athletes called for national duty, local athletes never go through medical check- ups. Each athlete, he said, has been in control of their own physical being and health.
However, Ramatshaba said the untimely passing of Mokgadi has made the federation to reconsider more on how to save athletes from the same type of death.
“It is upon an individual to monitor and check their health as a federation we do not do that for athletes but we talk to them and encourage them to go do check-ups and follow on their health,” he said.
Ramatshaba said the reason for no medical check-ups is lack of finances which is making it impossible for athletes whether in the national team or not, to be cared for medically.
But did it have to cost another life for the federation to finally learn? According to Dr Lesedinyana Odiseng, he spoke a couple of times to BAA about the medical check-ups the athletes should undergo but they never paid attention.
He highlighted that ever since his return from the United Kingdom, he has so far recorded four cardiac arrest deaths, including that of Mokgadi.
“We have been having a lot of talks with the association but they never headed our warning,” he lamented.
“We have advised that athletes should also do a heart ECG every once a year and a cardiac echo every two years. These tests should be carried out by a physician who is well versed in cardiac medicine. Sadly, this has not been done,” Dr Odiseng said.
On what needs to be done to reduce the risk of athletes succumbing to deaths under similar circumstances, Dr Odiseng had this to say;
“All athletes and coaches should be taught basic resuscitation to help avoid such situation, ” he said.
He went on to state that given Botswana’s extremely hot weather conditions, athletes also need to be well hydrated at all times.
Dr Odiseng also called for Automatic External Defibrillator (AED), a device that shocks the heart into normal rhythm, be made available at all sporting events and training, where possible, saying ‘it is totally irresponsible not to have one device at least.’