Postcard from Zaharah: Heart to heart with Aleah

IT was a heart-stopping moment for Aleah Mohammad, mother of three young children, when she saw Inter Milan star Christian Eriksen collapse during Denmark's Euro 2020 clash with Finland in Copenhagen two weeks ago.

Watching the game on television with her husband and children in her home in Liverpool, Aleah was hoping that the midfielder would get up and resume the match, but the drama on the pitch that was unfolding before her eyes and millions of football fans soon confirmed what Aleah had suspected.

As someone who had been studying cardiovascular physiology in elite footballers, Aleah had seen enough footage of sudden cardiac arrest on football pitches before, shown to her by her late supervisor Professor John Somauroo, a professor of Cardiology at Liverpool John Moore University where Aleah is doing her PhD.

"It's a rare case in athletes who have been screened, but the impact is huge. Just imagine those who had not undergone screening," she said.

Aleah was a sports therapist with the National Sports Institute in Malaysia before embarking on a journey that had taken her to meet some of the world's famous athletes and footballers in the United Kingdom.

She went to study at Liverpool John Moore University in late 2015 and counted herself lucky to have the late Professor Somauroo as her supervisor.

As a cardiac consultant with Liverpool Football Club and a member of the Football Associations' cardiac screening panel, he enrolled Aleah to assist him, starting with the women's team of the Liverpool Football Club.

In 2018, a video of Liverpool Football Club players having their cardiac screening went viral and the focus turned to an unnamed tudung-clad woman assisting in the procedure.

Thus began the hunt for the "Gadis Tudung Bawal" seen in the clip.

In the clip, Aleah was seen assisting a doctor do a screening on Joe Gomez with Nathaniel Clyne looking on.

Coincidentally, Aleah had, at the time, sent in an article to a local newspaper about sudden cardiac arrest on football pitches.

She soon had her moment of fame and became the envy of many Liverpool FC fans.

I was fortunate to see Aleah and her late professor at work at the Tom Reilly Building, which houses the Departments of Sports Science and Psychology of John Moore University, where screenings of the athletes were sometimes held. Unfortunately, it wasn't on a day where the likes of Liverpool legends such as Mo Salah or Sadio Mane were around.

"Professor Somauroo had enough trust in me to let me assist him in the screening and for that I am grateful, but he died last year after suffering from cancer," said Aleah who not only screened footballers but also rugby players, Olympian cyclists and water polo players.

The Liverpool players were all perfect gentlemen, said Aleah, adding they were very respectful and disciplined in their field.

"Although I was in awe of them, having seen them play on the fields, I had to be professional in my work.

"Salah was a little shy while Virgil van Dijk was friendly telling me about his injury during a game," she said.

Although she had not assisted in the screening of Fabrice Muamba who suffered a heart attack while playing in 2012, he told her about the incident which resulted in his loss of memory for three months.

Aleah couldn't stress enough the importance of cardiac screening for athletes.

The football association in England made cardiac screening for all professional players mandatory since 1997, followed by the Union of European Football associations in 2006, the Federation International Football Association in 2007 and Qatar FA in 2011.

Having studied players from various ethnic backgrounds, Aleah felt it was most important that screenings be done on Asian players too.

"I would love to be able to share my experience and knowledge when I come home," said the Mara-sponsored student whose studies and research so far had been dealt a blow due to the pandemic.

However, she is positive that she will be able to complete her studies soon.

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