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Coroner says football player had heart condition

October 26, 2006|by DON AINES

SHIPPENSBURG, Pa.- A freshman at Shippensburg University who collapsed during an Aug. 8 football practice and died had a heart condition that contributed to his death, according to Franklin County Coroner Jeffrey R. Conner.

Vincent S. Bernardo, 17, of Flourtown, Pa., died of dehydration and heat exposure with narrowing of the arteries and an enlarged heart listed as contributing factors, Conner said Wednesday. Conner ruled the manner of death accidental.

"We're definitely not saying it was too hot, or anybody pushed anybody beyond their limit," Conner said. "The same circumstances could have existed the day before and not done anything."

"We're talking about environmental heat exposure in conjunction with his undiagnosed heart issues," Conner said.

The 6-2, 270-pound offensive lineman was running a series of 110-yard sprints in an early-morning workout at about 8 a.m. when he became ill and was taken to the university's training facility. Bernardo's condition worsened and he was taken to Chambersburg Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 9:32 a.m., Conner said.

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The final autopsy report showed Bernardo had coronary artery arteriosclerosis with a 75 percent narrowing in the left anterior artery of his heart and narrowing of 50 percent and 25 percent in two other arteries. He also had cardiomegaly, or an enlarged heart, the report stated.

"The combination of the above listed items most likely produced an acute (sudden, severe) cardiac arrhythmia (irregularity or loss of rhythm) resulting in the death," Conner wrote in a press release.

Toxicology tests showed no evidence of drugs or alcohol in Bernardo's system, Conner wrote.

"This was the first drill of the first day of practice," said Peter M. Gigliotti, the university's executive director for communications and marketing. The temperature was in the low 70s that morning, he said.

"We keep track of that and we also keep track of the humidity" and both were within acceptable ranges, Gigliotti said. Water also was available at either end of the field where the sprints were being run for any athlete who needed a drink, he said.

"Every freshman - athlete or nonathlete - gets a physical," Gigliotti said, but Bernardo's pre-existing heart problems were not discovered and would not have been with more extensive testing not normally indicated for a 17-year-old athlete, he said.

Gigliotti said Bernardo had been training during the summer before coming to the university, including the sprint drills.

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