December 12, 2015

HOUSTON (AP) Matt Bullard was undergoing an echocardiogram and the thump of the 6-foot-10 former NBA player's heartbeat was so loud it muffled the booming baritone of his voice.

Bullard was one of about 30 retired players who received free cardiovascular screenings on Saturday as part of an initiative started by the NBA Players Association and sponsored by both the NBA and the Retired Players Association in the wake of the recent heart-related deaths of Darryl Dawkins and Moses Malone.

Bullard, who now works on the TV broadcasts for Houston Rockets games, has a history of heart problems in his family, with his father and grandfather having heart attacks before the age of 56. That combined with the recent high-profile deaths spurred him to get checked out.

''Just over the last few months all the former players that have died has really got my attention,'' the 48-year-old Bullard said. ''As you get older you kind of go through phases in your life when you realize: `Hey, this isn't going to last forever.' All the former players that have died and friends of mine recently has really brought it home. So the fact that the retired players union and the current players union have put this together is huge for us, so you've got to take advantage of something like this when it's offered.''

Joe Rogowski, the director of sports medicine and research for the NBAPA, is the brains behind this project, which organizers plan to offer in several more cities in upcoming months. Rogowski worked in the NBA for 10 seasons with the Orlando Magic and Rockets in strength and conditioning.

''I wished I could do more for them cardiac-wise and seeing these guys die was something that personally touched me,'' he said. ''That's why I wanted to develop a program like this for the guys so if we could catch one issue it's worth it. And I definitely think we have.''

The players, who ranged in age from their 40s to 70s, went to different stations where they gave their medical history, received an electrocardiogram and an echocardiogram, had their blood pressure taken and blood work done and had a carotid scan. The screenings were done at the Toyota Center, where the Rockets play, and forward Donatas Motiejunas came up to chat with some of the former players.

The retired players also were given mobile phone-based cardiac monitors, and ones who met certain criteria received sleep apnea home testing devices.

Their information was uploaded to a computer and they met with a cardiologist and made appointments to visit that doctor next week to receive the full results of their tests.

Dr. Manuel Reyes, the cardiologist at the event, said that even with insurance, the out-of-pocket cost for these tests would be thousands of dollars.

''Men statistically have less encounters with health care providers, we statistically have worse outcomes in a lot of different things, so it's very nice to start getting some awareness into that and this is the perfect thing,'' Reyes said. ''Get a little bit of awareness and begin to chip away at the mountain little by little.''

The NBAPA plans to use the data to conduct research on the players.

''Looking for trends is a crucial part of all this,'' Rogowski said. ''It's great to collect the data, but now let's do something with the data as well. While you're saving lives you could also save lives in the future by looking at this data.''

Rogowski said this is just the beginning of health screenings for retired players and they hope to screen for other problems in the future. For now, he is happy there was such a robust turnout for the first event and believes it's an important beginning step.

''The main thing is to have the players recognize the importance of cardiovascular health and awareness and starting that path in that direction,'' he said. ''Hopefully from here they can take it to the next level.''

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