The death of a Cornell men's lacrosse player, apparently caused by a ball hitting him in the chest, will likely re-ignite the debate on whether the sport's players are wearing enough equipment.
George Boiardi, a 22-year-old senior who had been a multi-sport athlete at Landon School in Bethesda, died Wednesday evening at Cayuga Medical Center in Ithaca, N.Y.
Though not suggesting more equipment is the answer, Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said: "A young man lost his life, and we have to find a way to try to prevent this from happening again."
With 2:33 left in the Big Red's game against Binghamton in Ithaca, N.Y., Boiardi was hit with the ball while defending a shot on goal.
According to reports in the Ithaca Journal, Boiardi, a four-year starter and defensive midfielder, took a few steps before falling to the ground.
Though emergency crews tried to revive him on the field, Boiardi never regained consciousness and died at the hospital.
The official cause of death will not be determined until after an autopsy.
A blow to the chest can cause a rare, often fatal event called commotio cordis, in which the blow interferes with the heart's electrical impulses, causing a heart attack. However, Newsday reported that Boiardi was bleeding from the mouth after the incident, a symptom not usually attributed to commotio. The bleeding, Newsday said, likely indicated a fatal vascular rupture.
Dr. Richard Hinton, a sports orthopedic surgeon at Union Memorial Hospital and co-chairman of the Sports, Safety and Science Committee of US Lacrosse, the sport's governing body, said it is a little unusual for commotio cordis to affect an athlete Boiardi's age.
Still, the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research's annual report, conducted from fall 1982 to spring 2002, recorded five lacrosse deaths from commotio cordis.
In March 2001, Todd Bernhardt, a freshman at Rochester Institute of Technology, died a week after he was hit with an errant shot before RIT's game against Springfield (Mass.) in Philadelphia.
Louis Acompora, a freshman goalie at Northport High in Long Island, N.Y, was killed after taking a shot in the chest in March 2000. Acompora's parents were the driving force behind a law that requires one portable defibrillator in each high school in New York.
Eric Sopracasa, a defenseman at Massachusetts, died in May 1999 when he took a ball in the chest during a practice.
"Once is too many times for this to happen," said Pietramala, who recruited Boiardi to play at Cornell before leaving to coach his alma mater. "I'm not a doctor and don't know the solution to the problem, but I do know this: We have to find one."
Others have campaigned for rules requiring field players to wear more and better equipment, such as chest protectors. Goalies are required to wear the chest padding, but not field players.
Shoulder pads are required for field players, but the extent of coverage and padding that shoulder pads offer differs based on player preference.
Defenders, who don't get checked as much as offensive players, are known to wear smaller and lighter shoulder pads - some that barely reach their chests.
Said Landon's Rob Bordley, who coached Boiardi in lacrosse and football: "Maybe this tragedy will result in people re-examining the equipment to make sure that we maximize this protection to this area. I don't know. I'm sure the NCAA will wrestle with these issues."
In a statement yesterday, Eastern College Athletic Conference commissioner Phil Buttafuoco encouraged the lacrosse community "to evaluate the type of equipment that is being used by the student-athletes."
Still, according to medical professionals, avoiding these tragedies may not be as simple as wearing more equipment. Acompora was wearing a chest protector when he got hit with the shot.
"It has to be a firm blow, but it's not necessarily the amount of the blow," said Dr. Bill Howard, director of Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center. "The timing is also what matters. You could still wear pads and get hit with a pretty good jolt."
Said Hinton: "Most people will look at this and say why don't they make these guys wear chest protectors, but there is no experimental data to suggest that chest protectors would prevent this."
Dr. Barry Maron, of the Minneapolis Heart Institute, said the role of equipment in limiting the effect of commotio cordis is unresolved.
"There is a lot of anecdotal info that the chest protectors out there are not as protective as they may assume," said Maron.
Sun staff writers Erika Niedowski and Lem Satterfield contributed to this article.