Parents Sue College After Son’s Sickle Cell Related Death
The parents of Jack Hill, Jr., a 21-year old senior at Slippery Rock University, filed a lawsuit alleging that the college and NCAA failed to test their son for the sickle cell trait. Testing of athletes became required by the NCAA in Division I schools in 2010, but not for Division II schools like Slippery Rock until 2012, as athletes with the sickle cell trait have special resuscitation needs during exercise-induced cardiac arrest.
On September 9, 2011, Hill, who was attempting to join the university’s men’s basketball team as a walk-on, participated in what the team calls the “insanity workout,” a late-night practice used to punish the team. It was the third practice of the day, according to court documents. The practice did not include basketball drills or scrimmages as normal practices do, but weightlifting drills and extreme, high intensity conditioning. Hill requested exclusion from practices earlier in the day, but coaches refused his request. He collapsed with 13 minutes left in the practice, unresponsive and not breathing.
According to the lawsuit, coaches and students briefly administered CPR, stopping before paramedics arrived. A coach retrieved an automated external defibrillator (AED), but did not attempt to use it. Instead, an untrained student attempted, incorrectly, to use the machine in an effort to save Hill. Sickle cell trait is an inherited condition in which red blood cells form a crescent, or “sickle” shape. Unlike normal red blood cells, which flow easily through the body, sickle cells can get stuck, blocking blood vessels and reducing oxygen flow. Because strenuous exercise often depletes oxygen and causes dehydration, cells of those with the sickle trait further reduce oxygen flow and lead to cardiac arrest in some cases. Therefore, a person with sickle cell trait who is in cardiac arrest requires special resuscitation measures, including additional hydration and oxygenation, than those who do not have the trait. Attorneys for the family say that because the college and the NCAA had not tested Jack Hill Jr., the paramedics were unable to use proper methods for resuscitation.
Nurse Practitioner Physical
Prior to the 2010 season, Hill underwent a physical with a nurse practitioner, and on the health forms he indicated that he did not have sickle cell disease. Jack did not make the team in 2010, as coaches said he was overweight at 6 feet tall and 261 pounds, but the student served as a team manager that season. The lawsuit alleges that the NCAA has been aware of the risks of athletes with sickle cell since 1975, and mandated testing for Division I schools in 2010. However, testing was not mandatory for Division II schools until 2012, after Hill’s death.
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