Student found dead in room died of heart failure Irregular heartbeat was cause, says examiner

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 where the heart sporadically beats faster, sometimes doubling its rate to dangerous levels. He was TTC 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 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 Castleberry's uncle, also from Oklahoma City.

The uncle said the family was gratified by a turnout of more than 300 people at the funeral yesterday at St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Severna Park. He said the family misses Donald Castleberry, who "always made you feel good about yourself."

"But this is a family that doesn't say, 'I wish I could have done something different,' " he said. "There are no regrets. They could not have hugged him more, kissed him more or loved him more, because they did it all."

Pub Date: 4/10/97

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