UM student found dead in room died from rare heart ailment Cause was natural, medical examiner says

April 10, 1997|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

A University of Maryland College Park student found dead in his fraternity house Saturday died of heart failure brought about by an irregular heartbeat, according to the Maryland medical examiner.

Donald Gene Castleberry of Millersville, who turned 21 four days before he died, suffered from Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, a type of cardiac arrhythmia in which the heart sporadically beats faster, sometimes doubling its rate to dangerous levels. He was found in bed in his Delta Tau Delta room at 4 p.m. Saturday and had been dead for 12 hours, college police said.

"The family is very comforted by the fact that it was something natural, rather than the mistake of a young man," said Patrick Castleberry, an Oklahoma City cousin who arrived for the funeral.

The autopsy revealed no drugs in Donald Castleberry's body, and his blood-alcohol concentration was below 0.09 percent, the legal measure for intoxication while driving.

During a checkup five years ago, a doctor had told the family that Donald Castleberry had a heart condition, Patrick Castleberry said. But after having tests done, the family concluded that it wasn't life-threatening, he said.

The condition Castleberry suffered from is present in less than 1 percent of the population and may not be detected until middle age, according to Dr. Hugh Calkins, chief of electrophysiology at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Less than 1 percent of people with the condition die of it. The condition, which is "weakly genetic," is curable with a simple surgical procedure, Calkins said.

"It's just one of those freakish things that happened to hit him," said Gene Castleberry, Donald's uncle, also from Oklahoma City.

Pub Date: 4/10/97

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