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Sudden Deaths
David Epstein
December 10, 2007
HCM may be the leading killer of young athletes, but other cardiovascular conditions have also claimed prominent lives
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December 10, 2007

Sudden Deaths

HCM may be the leading killer of young athletes, but other cardiovascular conditions have also claimed prominent lives

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Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is commonly assumed to have killed Hank Gathers, the 6'7" Loyola Marymount forward, and Reggie Lewis, the Boston Celtics' star swingman. But their deaths—as well as those of several other prominent athletes—were caused by different kinds of heart failure.

FLO HYMAN, died in 1986 at age 31 (Marfan syndrome)
Most often seen in tall, lanky individuals such as the 6'5" Hyman, a volleyball silver medalist at the 1984 Olympics, Marfan syndrome is a congenital disease that weakens the body's connective tissues. Affecting one in 5,000 people, it is often characterized by cardiovascular abnormalities—such as Hyman's weakened aorta, which ruptured during a Japanese-league match.

PETE MARAVICH, died in 1988 at age 40 (coronary artery anomaly)
Most people have two arteries that bring blood to the heart, but Maravich's autopsy showed that he was born with only one. While Pistol Pete, the 1976--77 NBA scoring leader, was playing a pickup game, he suffered a heart attack.

HANK GATHERS, died in 1990 at age 23 (heart arrhythmia, cause unknown)
After passing out during a December '89 game, the NCAA's reigning scoring and rebounding champion was found to have occasional ventricular tachycardia, a potentially lethal heart rhythm that starts in the ventricles. Doctors prescribed a beta-blocker to control the arrhythmia, but the dosage was reduced after Gathers felt sluggish. He dropped dead during a game the following March.

REGGIE LEWIS, died in 1993 at age 27 (myocarditis)
He collapsed during an April '93 playoff game and died while shooting baskets three months later of an inflammation of the heart typically caused by a virus that damages the organ's muscle cells.

SERGEI GRINKOV, died in 1995 at age 28 (coronary atherosclerosis and high blood pressure)
Atherosclerosis refers to the narrowing and hardening of the arteries. The Russian Olympics pairs figure skating champion in 1988 and '94 had a heart attack while practicing with Ekaterina Gordeeva, his wife and skating partner, in Lake Placid, N.Y. An autopsy found that two of Grinkov's coronary arteries were almost totally blocked.

DARRYL KILE, died in 2002 at age 33 (coronary atherosclerosis)
The St. Louis Cardinals' pitcher was found dead in a Chicago hotel room, atherosclerosis having impeded the blood supply to the heart.

GEORGE BOIARDI, died in 2004 at age 22 (possible commotio cordis)
Translated from Latin as a "commotion of the heart," commotio cordis is a sudden disturbance in heart rhythm caused by a blunt impact; Boiardi, a senior lacrosse player at Cornell, was struck in the chest by a ball during a game.

CHAD SCHIEBER, died in 2007 at age 35 (mitral valve prolapse)
A condition in which one of the heart valves does not close correctly, mitral valve prolapse affects more than 2% of adults but rarely leads to complications. The backflow of blood can cause the heart to work too hard; it's not known if that's what killed Schieber, who died during the Oct. 7 Chicago Marathon.