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May 7, 2013

Tragic death highlights extreme precautions

The Penn State community suffered a tragic loss Sunday when a 2012 graduate, Kyle Chase Johnson, passed away due to unforeseen heart complications while running the Pittsburgh Half Marathon.

According to a report by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Allegheny County medical examiner Karl Williams determined that Johnson, 23, had, "an abnormality in his coronary artery system… a defect that is present in less than 1 percent of the population and kills even fewer." Having displayed no symptoms or abnormalities leading up to the race, the sudden loss was that much more difficult to understand.

In Williamsport, Pa., Tuesday morning on the Penn State Coaches' Caravan, Nittany Lions' head coach Bill O'Brien offered his condolences from the Penn State football community to Johnson's friends and family.

"Well, first of all, my heart goes out to Kyle's family and what they must be going through right now," he said. "I can't even imagine that, so on behalf of Penn State and our football program, just condolences to the family."

With an awareness level about cardiac issues raised by Johnson's sudden death, O'Brien went on to explain the intensive medical examination and investigation Penn State's medical staff performs on each and every player from the moment they arrive on campus as freshmen until their careers as Nittany Lions are finished.

"We do extensive physicals when they get here for every incoming freshman, and then every year after. So, every year that they're here, really, twice a year, they get some type of physical examination, some kids more than others," he said. "Meaning, if a guy comes here his freshman year and we detect something, maybe as minor as a loose ligament in a knee to as serious as some type of heart ailment, we'll continue to check that student athlete all the way through. I think our medical team is excellent, top-notch, and so we do that extensively."

The background knowledge of a players' intimate medical history doesn't begin or end there, though.

As O'Brien explained, even during the recruiting stages while a prospect is in high school, Penn State goes to great lengths to learn as much medical history on the player as is possible.

"One of the things that we really try to do a great job of in the background check on a young man is basically his medical history," he said. "So, we do the best we can, under the rules, that we're allowed to do to make sure that we understand what this guy's medical history is.

"A lot of times, you can get the two doctors to speak to each other. If there's an issue, the young man's doctor from his hometown or his high school and the Penn State doctors, that seems to go pretty well, too."

Of course, even the most thorough medical examination and background checking can't prevent complications from arising as a player's career at Penn State progresses.

Most recently, redshirt junior coaching assistant Evan Hailes was forced to cut his playing career short due to blood-clot problems that surfaced in his leg in the spring of 2011. With utmost diligence, though, the Nittany Lions take extreme precaution to protect - and project - the health of their players.



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