Athletes participating in the Special Olympics are required to obtain a comprehensive sports physical before they compete. MedFest is a screening event, which was hosted by Yale Orthopaedics this year, that brings athletes, physicians, medical students, and volunteers together on a single day to examine those participating in upcoming Special Olympic events.
David Frumberg, MD, is an assistant professor with the Department of Orthopaedics & Rehabilitation who serves as the clinical director for MedFest. “We’re really excited to have put this together at our Milford location,” he said. “Many of these athletes haven’t received a comprehensive sports physical since before the pandemic started. This was a great way to bring them back into the health system to make sure they are doing well, review any medications, and qualify their eligibility to safely participate in the upcoming events and games.”
The last MedFest took place in September of 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic began.
“As peer competitors, many of these athletes are best friends,” Frumberg continued. “This event allows the athletes to participate in Special Olympics and reunite with the friends they may not have seen in a long time. Those relationships simply cannot be taken for granted when looking at their overall health and wellbeing.”
Caitlin Daikus directs health and wellness for Special Olympics Connecticut. “MedFest is a single location event, open to athletes from across the state, that was created to provide required physical screenings,” she said. “These exams assess blood pressure, temperature, pulse, height, weight, body mass index, vision, hearing, medical history, potential medication side effects and general physical health.”
The screenings play a vital role, not only to confirm an athlete’s eligibility to participate, but to review his or her overall health as well. Screenings like this are, in some cases, the first exposure athletes have to medical care. In many instances, life-threatening conditions have been found and subsequently treated thanks to MedFest.
According to Special Olympics national data, more than 900,000 athletes participate in games and events each year. Most notable, 74% of Special Olympics athletes are overweight or obese and 22% have at least one previously undiagnosed medical condition.
Frumberg added that a large number of athletes have genetic disorders that can cause additional health concerns with aging. “Sports participation is key to warding off a decline in cardiovascular health,” he said. “A sedentary lifestyle and being unable to condition and compete, such as they have experienced during the pandemic, can really adversely affect their heart health. As you can imagine, we were thrilled to be able to bring these athletes back into a clinical setting and get them back into the games.”
The care the athletes receive is also instructive for those who provide for their health. Screening events like MedFest offer a unique opportunity for providers and students to learn how to best treat patients with special intellectual needs.
Fostering new partnerships between Special Olympics and the community is critical,” Daikus said. “MedFest provides physicians, nurses, and other health care providers with specialized training and experience in adequately caring for people with intellectual disabilities. In addition to MedFest, Special Olympics has offerings under the Healthy Athletes® program such as dental, audiology, podiatry, vision, physical therapy, mental and emotional well-being, and health promotion.”
“Special Olympics is so much more than just sports,” she concluded. “It’s incredible to be able to bring people and providers together with Special Olympics so athletes can do their best both on and off the field.”
Special Olympics always needs volunteers to assist with providing medical care, training athletes in 27 different sports, and general event support. Visit www.soct.org to learn more.