“EXERTIONAL HEAT STROKE IS ALMOST ALWAYS PREVENTABLE, AND IT IS 100 PERCENT SURVIVABLE IF APPROPRIATE TREATMENT BEGINS IMMEDIATELY.”
It takes one round of kidney dialysis and several days in the intensive care unit before Logan Johnson is stabilized and discharged from Arkansas Children’s Hospital. A full six months pass before he is able to resume normal exercise.
The first couple of weeks in the hospital are touch and go for both Tyler Davenport and Will James. After that, however — because of the athletic trainer’s quick action to cool Will’s body before medical transport arrived — Will James begins to recover. Tyler is a different story. After three weeks, his brain is damaged. His nervous system is shutting down. He cannot speak. His muscle tissue is dying, and doctors fear he will soon lose his right hand and forearm.
In early September, still weak and needing kidney dialysis, Will James is being discharged from Arkansas Children’s. But before he goes, he wants to check in on Tyler, the other offensive lineman who collapsed and who has been going through so many of the same things. He walks across the hall and into Tyler’s room for the first time. He is stunned and saddened to find Tyler looking shockingly weak and unable to communicate.
After Will leaves, Tyler’s struggles increase. The days wear on. After two months, Tyler’s parents ask him if he wants to let go. He squeezes their hands. Tyler Davenport dies on Oct. 12.
On Friday morning, October 15, 2010, at Cabin Creek Baptist Church in Lamar, Arkansas, Will attends Tyler’s funeral.
Plastic immersion tub: $135
Ten bags of ice: $20
It has been 18 months since Tyler died and UConn Kinesiology Professor Douglas Casa is sitting in the backyard of a house in Fayetteville, Ark., surrounded by a gathering of reps from the Arkansas high school athletic association, high school coaches, physicians, athletic trainers, and others. The house belongs to University of Arkansas Professor of Kinesiology and UConn alum, Matthew Ganio ’09 Ph.D. Will James’ and Logan Johnson’s parents are there, as are Tyler Davenport’s. Casa is one of the nation’s leading experts on heat stroke and is the head of the University’s Korey Stringer Institute, created by Kelci Stringer, wife of Minnesota Vikings lineman Korey Stringer, who died from complications of exertional heat stroke in 2001.
Casa tells the group that with just a few changes in practice procedures and a small investment in appropriate supplies, heat stroke deaths can be avoided and the lives of young athletes like Tyler Davenport can be saved.
“People are surprised when we tell them exertional heat stroke is almost always preventable, and it is 100 percent survivable if appropriate treatment begins immediately,” says Casa, a competitive runner who credits the quick actions of an athletic trainer and EMTs with helping him survive an exertional heat stroke during a 10k track race in 1985.
“It doesn’t cost much to save lives,” he says. “You can get all of the equipment you need — plastic cold water immersion tubs, ice, rectal thermometers, advanced outdoor weather meters, automatic external defibrillators — for under $2,000. That’s a very small price to pay considering the amount of money that is spent annually on high school athletics in this country. And it’s not like you need to purchase new equipment each year. These things all easily last 8 to 10 years.”
Just the plastic tub and ice by themselves can make an extraordinary difference.
Additionally, he says, some of the most important life-saving measures are free. Adopting new practice and conditioning protocols — such as phasing in summer workouts to help athletes adjust to the heat, providing plenty of fluids and periodic breaks, and modifying practice when heat and humidity are high — come at no cost at all. And there’s knowledge, training, and simply being aware of what to do when a student collapses.
Professor of Kinesiology Doug Casa works with KSI staff and students at UConn’s Greer Field House. Dozens of undergraduates do research with KSI every year.
The scholastic boys’ 10,000-meter run started in the late morning of a hot and humid day. On the final lap, the third-place runner began staggering. He collapsed just as he was coming into the turn. He stood up, took a few more strides, and then collapsed again. He was lying unconscious not more than a hundred meters from the finish line. His coaches quickly warned the physician and athletic trainer not to touch this 16-year-old athlete because he would be disqualified and lose his chance at a medal.
Ignoring the coaches’ request, they got the athlete to the nearby ambulance area, placed him in the shade, and put ice bags and wet towels on his neck, forehead, axilla, and groin areas while EMTs called the hospital.
“I have nearly no memory of approximately six hours of my life, while I was in a coma due to severe exertional heat stroke,” says Doug Casa. But “after being released from intensive care to a regular hospital room, I watched the local news at 11 p.m. and watched them tell the story of my exertional heat stroke. It was powerful to lie alone (Buffalo was 10 hours from my house on Long Island) in a hospital room — utterly exhausted yet peacefully thankful — and watch a news account about myself.
“On August 8, 1985, somewhere between 11 and 11:10 p.m. EST, the path of my life unfurled in front of me. For all the years since then, I have been on a quest to try to prevent and treat exertional heat stroke. My story is not overly complicated. My survival penance has been to save as many lives as possible from heat stroke and to prepare others who can do the same.”
Kent Scriber, professor of exercise and sport sciences at Ithaca College, was the athletic trainer who helped Casa that day. “I was impressed with Dr. Casa’s research long before I realized our paths had crossed years earlier,” says Scriber. “I still remain in awe of Dr. Casa’s passion for the work he does, and I am proud to know that my actions many years ago have been a catalyst for the work that he has done since then.”
Casa says his work with the Korey Stringer Institute is a way of “paying it forward.” The current work of KSI related to heat stroke and sudden death is enhancing the safety, not only of athletes of all ages and levels, but also of our country’s military, laborers, and anyone leading an active lifestyle.