Midshipman who died Dec. 5 had heart defect, autopsy finds Californian, 20, collapsed playing touch football

December 15, 1998|By Neal Thompson | Neal Thompson,SUN STAFF

The Naval Academy freshman who collapsed and died during a midnight touch football game Dec. 5 was the victim of a previously undetected heart abnormality, an autopsy has found.

Steven L. Douglas of Tulare, Calif., and a group of classmates had been playing on a lighted field at the academy at 12: 45 a.m. as part of the celebration before the annual Army-Navy football game, which took place later that day.

After playing for about 10 minutes, Douglas returned to a huddle and then collapsed. Paramedics were unable to revive him, and he was pronounced dead at Anne Arundel Medical Center.

An autopsy last week at the state medical examiner's office in Baltimore found that Douglas had a heart abnormality called "right ventricular dysplasia," a hereditary heart valve defect, Dr. David Fowler, assistant medical examiner, said yesterday.

"It's not a common thing," Fowler said.

The defect can go undetected indefinitely, but exertion can cause a person with such a defect to have heart failure, which is what happened with Douglas, Fowler said.

Academy spokesman Cmdr. Mike Brady said the academy's detailed medical screening tests are not able to detect such a heart defect.

Douglas, 20, who had lived south of Fresno with his mother, was buried near his home Saturday after a memorial service at the academy Dec. 9.

It was the second time in recent months that a midshipman had died due to an undetected heart condition.

Jason McCray, also 20, died while playing basketball in June at a Coast Guard station in Boston, where he and his classmates had stopped during a summer cruise.

An autopsy revealed that McCray had an enlarged heart.

Pub Date: 12/15/98

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