So what happens next?
UCF football player Ereck Plancher, a 19-year-old freshman receiver from Naples, collapsed after an offseason workout supervised by Knights Coach George O'Leary and his staff on March 18. He was taken to a nearby hospital and died about an hour later. On Friday, attorneys for the Plancher family notified the university they intend to pursue a wrongful death claim against the school. The following summary of Plancher's final workout and recent developments in the case was compiled from interviews with multiple UCF officials, public documents and the accounts of four UCF football players who spoke to the Sentinel on condition of anonymity because they said they feared reprisals.
What was the cause of death?
The Orange County medical examiner's autopsy report released July 17 stated Plancher collapsed and died as a result of "dysrhythmia brought on by exertional rhabdomyolysis with sickle-cell trait." That trait can hamper the ability of cells to carry oxygen and has been cited as the contributor to the deaths of 10 athletes between ages 12-19 since 2000. In simple terms, Plancher's heart stopped when his red blood cells became malformed during a workout. This "sickling" of his cells in the heart, lungs, liver, spleen, pancreas, kidneys, adrenal glands and thymus caused his body to shut down.
Did UCF know about the sickle-cell trait?
Yes. On the day the autopsy report was released, UCF spokesman Grant Heston told the Sentinel the school learned Plancher had the trait during a team physical exam in January 2007. Heston said Plancher was told he carried the trait and informed of precautions he should take. Heston said all coaches and training staff were aware Plancher carried the trait. Athletic Director Keith Tribble said the school's training staff "monitored his physical condition at every practice and workout." In earlier interviews, including an April 1 session at UCF, multiple UCF officials disclosed to the Sentinel they did not know of anything in Plancher's medical history that could cause a problem. "We look at the medical history of every athlete that arrives at our school," said Mary Vander Heiden, head football athletic trainer. "We talk to each athlete individually. If there is anything questionable, we follow up quickly."
Why was Plancher allowed to play?
Plancher had passed two NCAA standard physicals at UCF. NCAA and National Athletic Trainers' Association recommendations say athletes with the sickle-cell trait, which is "generally benign and consistent with a long and healthy life," can participate in sports and training activities if monitored closely.
What precautions are recommended?
The 2008-09 NCAA Sports Medicine Handbook urges trainers to exercise caution when supervising athletes with the blood disorder. "The harder and faster athletes go, the earlier and greater the sickling," the handbook states. "Sickling can begin in only two to three minutes of sprinting, or in any other all-out exertion of sustained effort, thus quickly increasing the risk of collapse. Athletes with sickle-cell trait cannot be conditioned out of the trait and coaches pushing these athletes beyond their normal physiological response to stop and recover place these athletes at an increased risk of collapse."
The NCAA suggests an athlete with sickle-cell trait not be urged to perform all-out exertion of any kind beyond 2-3 minutes without rest, be excused from performance tests such as serial sprints and mile runs, and immediately pulled from activity if warning signs occur. They also recommend rest and recovery between repetitions, especially during "gassers" and intense station or "mat" drills.
The NCAA and NATA note warning signs for a sickling collapse include muscle pain, abnormal weakness, undue fatigue or shortness of breath. The NATA wrote: "As the player rests, sickle red cells regain oxygen in the lungs and most then revert to normal shape, and the athlete soon feels good again and ready to continue."
How should sickling be treated?
Both the NATA and NCAA say a sickling collapse should be treated as an immediate medical emergency. The NATA sickling collapse protocol suggests checking vital signs, administering high-flow oxygen with a non-rebreather face mask; cooling the athlete, if necessary; as vital signs decline, calling 9-1-1, attaching an AED [defibrillator], starting an IV and getting to the hospital fast; telling the doctors to expect explosive rhabdomyolysis and grave metabolic complications; having an emergency action plan and appropriate emergency equipment for all practices and competitions.
What was the workout?
According to a timeline of the day provided by O'Leary to the Sentinel during the group interview with UCF officials on April 1, the workout at the Knights' indoor practice facility consisted of 75 minutes of weightlifting; 10 minutes of stretching; an agility course lasting "exactly 10 minutes, 26 seconds;" two 18-second sprints; a team huddle and some calisthenics that O'Leary said began at about 10:31 a.m. and concluded at about 10:45 a.m.
Did the workouts include mat drills?
Mat drills are considered to be among the most challenging of all football conditioning drills. O'Leary described the workout as "conditioning drills" in the April interview with the Sentinel and called them "agility" drills in a "My Turn" column published July 27 in the Sentinel. The four UCF players described the workout as including mat drills in multiple, separate interviews with the Sentinel in March and April. In an article published in the Sentinel on May 18, Florida State strength and conditioning coach Todd Stroud said "mat drills" generally refer to high-intensity, short-burst agility drills that may -- or may not -- be done on mats.
Developments in the Ereck Plancher death
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