Playing It Safe

Oakland Raiders cornerback and Bay Area native TJ Carrie is no stranger to adversity.

During his freshman year of high school, TJ collapsed suddenly during fall football tryouts. He was rushed to the emergency department at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, where he was diagnosed with a coronary artery anomaly.

This birth defect, described by his doctors as a one-in-a-million case, caused the artery to constrict when his lungs expanded, decreasing oxygen circulation during physical activities.

"We will always be thankful for the PlaySafe program."

His doctors presented TJ with two treatment options: Avoid physical activity and opt out of high-impact sports or undergo open-heart surgery. The thought of never again playing the game he loved proved too much, so TJ proceeded with the surgery and never looked back.

Not only did TJ continue playing football after the procedure, he earned awards for best football and track athlete his senior year and was named First-Team All-Conference. He played college football at Ohio University and was drafted by the Raiders in 2014.

“Children’s Hospital Oakland has been a cornerstone in my life,” TJ said. “Their advanced technology provided vital details about my heart condition. Throughout my recovery from surgery, I received excellent care. The hospital staff treated every patient as if they were their only patient. Thanks to the excellent care, I was able to pursue my goal of becoming a professional athlete.”

Stories like TJ’s inspired UCSF health care providers to establish PlaySafe, an outreach program that provides free physical exams for high school athletes. The goal is to detect underlying medical abnormalities and prevent sudden death.

For Alexander Berbey, a high school junior preparing for the fall football season, the PlaySafe physical may have saved his life.

Alexander’s EKG revealed a rare congenital heart condition known as Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome. “We will always be thankful for the PlaySafe program,” said Alexander’s mother, Rhoda. “Even the most responsible parents are sometimes unaware of the unique opportunities to keep their kids safer. The test was a lifesaver.”