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European Heart Rhythm Association Awards Gold Medal to Footballer Iker Casillas

Cardiovascular Risk Assessment
Secondary Prevention
Atrial Fibrillation
Ventricular Arrhythmias and Sudden Cardiac Death (SCD)
Physical Inactivity and Exercise

Barcelona, Spain – 17 April 2023: Spanish footballer, Iker Casillas, was awarded an EHRA Gold Medal for services to cardiovascular health yesterday at EHRA 2023, the annual congress of the European Heart Rhythm Association (EHRA) – a branch of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC). 

In 2019, Iker, captain of the Spanish 2010 World Cup-winning team, suffered a heart attack during a normal training session. Unable to breathe, Iker initially believed he was suffering from a grass allergy, but doctors on the scene quickly identified that he was having a heart attack. Fortunately, Iker was rushed to hospital where he had acute balloon angioplasty – a procedure that saved his life. 

EHRA President, Prof. Jose Luis Merino, FESC, FEHRA said; “Up to 50% of patients who suffer a heart attack may not even make it to hospital, highlighting the importance of recognising the warning signs of a heart attack and seeking immediate medical attentioni.  Globally, 14 million people die each year from heart attacks and stroke, with one third of these happening prematurely in people under 70 years of age. ii

Since this life-changing episode, Iker has been a proponent of the importance of heart health and the need to take action to prevent others suffering heart attacks. Iker is also an active ambassador for Idoven – a health tech company advancing early detection and precision medicine for cardiology with artificial intelligence. iii 

In an interview with Prof. Merino, Iker describes what having a heart attack felt like; “As I fell to the ground, I was desperately trying to get oxygen and realised it wasn’t coming. I was writhing in pain. When the doctor told me I was having a heart attack, I couldn’t believe it. I do sports, live a healthy lifestyle, and was feeling good and strong. There was a big gap between me what I thought was happening – a grass allergy – and what the doctor was telling me.”

EHRA President, Prof. Jose Luis Merino, FESC, FEHRA said; “Raising awareness of the risk factors associated with heart attacks and the telltale signs that indicate someone is experiencing a heart attack, is critical to reducing the number of preventable deaths. The work that Iker is doing to support that education process in the public arena is fantastic and is why we are delighted that he is accepting the Gold Medal from EHRA today.”

On receiving the award, Iker said; “I am very grateful for this award and honoured that the European Heart Rhythm Society thought of me to represent the cardiovascular world and everything that heart issues entail. I feel like I am very fortunate to have survived and now want to help people understand that awareness and prevention are necessary and that we must not neglect our health”.

Iker continued; “After what happened to me in 2019, I’ve learned so much about cardiovascular problems and everything that surrounds a possible heart attack. I’ve stopped being afraid of it, I’m better informed and am now aware of how much organisations like EHRA are doing to help prevent cardiovascular disease.”

Spain is leading the way in terms of cardiovascular health and was the first EU country to announce the creation of a national cardiovascular health plan – a plan developed in collaboration between government, regional authorities, and cardiovascular stakeholders. The European Alliance for Cardiovascular Health (EACH) is urging all countries to follow this model, and the European Society of Cardiology (ESC), of which EHRA is a branch, is actively supporting this endeavor through its member network. 



Know the signs of a heart attack – information from the European Society of Cardiology

  • Typically pressure or a burning or tightening sensation in your chest.
  • Pain may extend to your left or right arm, to the throat, neck, back, stomach or jaw.
  • Sometimes sudden shortness of breath.
  • Often accompanied by severe sweating and nausea.
    If any such symptoms occur and last for more than 5 minutes, call an ambulance.

Many patients report having similar symptoms coming and going in the days before their full-blown heart attack. Do not ignore these warning signs.

  • Symptoms can come and go, lasting for several minutes at a time, in the days and weeks before a full-blown heart attack.
  • When exercising, walking fast, or climbing a stair, you may notice tightness in the chest or unusual shortness of breath.



-    Ends -


i The percentage of people with a heart attack who die before getting to the hospital can vary depending on various factors such as the severity of the heart attack, the availability of emergency medical services, and the individual's overall health condition. However, studies have shown that about 30% to 50% of all deaths related to heart attacks occur before the person reaches the hospital. This highlights the importance of recognising the warning signs of a heart attack and seeking immediate medical attention.
1. Mozaffarian, D., Benjamin, E. J., Go, A. S., Arnett, D. K., Blaha, M. J., Cushman, M., ... & Turner, M. B. (2015). Heart disease and stroke statistics—2015 update: a report from the American Heart Association. Circulation, 131(4), e29-e322.
2. Benjamin, E. J., Virani, S. S., Callaway, C. W., Chamberlain, A. M., Chang, A. R., Cheng, S., ... & Muntner, P. (2018). Heart disease and stroke statistics—2018 update: a report from the American Heart Association. Circulation, 137(12), e67-e492.
3. Goldberg, R. J., Spencer, F. A., Gore, J. M., Lessard, D., & Yarzebski, J. (2005). Thirty-year trends (1975 to 2005) in the magnitude of, management of, and hospital death rates associated with cardiogenic shock in patients with acute myocardial infarction: a population-based perspective. Circulation, 112(19), 3540-3546.

ii Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are the leading cause of death globally, taking an estimated 17.9 million lives each year. CVDs are a group of disorders of the heart and blood vessels and include coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, rheumatic heart disease and other conditions. More than four out of five CVD deaths are due to heart attacks and strokes, and one third of these deaths occur prematurely in people under 70 years of age. 

iii Idoven uses AI-powered detection and precision medicine for cardiology 

Notes to editor

Authors: ESC Press Office
Tel: +33 489 872 075
Follow us on Twitter @ESCardioNews

About the European Heart Rhythm Association

The European Heart Rhythm Association (EHRA) is a branch of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC). Its aim is to improve patients’ quality of life and reduce sudden cardiac death by limiting the impact of heart rhythm disturbances. 

About the EHRA Congress     #EHRA2023
EHRA 2023 is the annual congress of the European Heart Rhythm Association (EHRA) of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).

About the European Society of Cardiology

The European Society of Cardiology brings together health care professionals from more than 150 countries, working to advance cardiovascular medicine and help people lead longer, healthier lives.

About the European Alliance for Cardiovascular Health (EACH)

EACH brings together leading European and international organisations around joint activities to promote cardiovascular health as a policy priority at EU level. It calls for a comprehensive EU policy response to improve the cardiovascular health of European citizens.