ME's report on O'Neal's death

Inspite of the smear campaign against MU currently under way by the St. Louis Post Dispatch and Brian Burwell, the Boone County Medical Examiner's report shows that based on expert analysis of Aaron O'Neal's body, he died of viral meningitis. A condition, that at least one doctor has indicated, could have ended his life walking through a mall or any other typical activity.

It is difficult to articulate how pathetic Brian Burwell's column in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is on virtually every level.

In the column, Burwell chastises the University of Missouri for not taking responsibility for O'Neal's death. Furthermore, he resorts to using inappropriate emotional comparisons, such as, "what is the life of your child worth to you?"

Let's look at the issues with our collective eyes open. 1. Reponsibility by MU staff for O'Neal's death. The medical examiner found Aaron to be a well nourished 19-year-old in excellent physical condition. He was not dehydrated, nor was he on any type of drug, steroid or enhancement. In short, it pointed out what we already knew...Aaron O'Neal was a physical speciman. The only problem was that some how, some way, this excellent athlete contracted viral meningitis. This could have happened virtually anywhere, and in a variety of ways. The most likely way appears to be through a mosquito bite.

With this in mind, and realizing that O'Neal's collapse would have happened at some point, it is difficult to understand how the Missouri staff are responsible at any level.

First, nothing Missouri did caused the player to contract meningitis. Hopefully, reasonable people can agree on that point.

Second, had the training staff taken him to the hospital after practice that day, would that have saved him? What Burwell is saying is that it would have. Unfortunately, that's not what the doctor's are saying, nor is it what they implied. If anything, they are saying just the opposite. Once meningitis gets to a certain point, there really is no hope of saving the patient.

For Burwell to crassly ask us to put a price tag on our own children's life is pathetic and amateurish. Of course our children are priceless, but that's not at issue here, is it? There isn't a person associated with Missouri who wouldn't have done anything in their power to save Aaron O'Neal if they could have.

Burwell didn't bother to mention the cause of O'Neal's death in his column...I wonder why not? Perhaps the truth in this case defeats his premise - that somehow Missouri was to blame for this young man's death - and therefore throws his intentions and agenda for writing this column into question.

No, what Burwell wrote today is nothing more than a savage misuse of journalistic access. He has been guilty of abusing this in the past by relying on innuendo and rumor, but this is by far the most egregious abuse yet. Too often in the past, the Post-Dispatch has made allegations against Mizzou, but then conveniently forgotten to retract those allegations when they were proven to be false. However, the public relations damage was already done, and that, apparently is what they are most interested it. has chosen to run these excerpts from the ME's report so that each of you can be informed, draw your own conclusions and then take whatever action you feel is appropriate in regards to Brian Burwell, and the editorial staff at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

We believe Mr. Burwell should be dismissed from the Post-Dispatch staff, as well as the editor who approved the story. If not, the Post should at least reprimand the parties involved, and a full retraction of the column published in the newspaper immediately.

To do anything less will prove that the management of the Post-Dispatch care little about fairness and journalistic integrity.



Medical Examiner Case No. 2005-220 Name (if known) O'NEAL, AARON

Cause of Death: Lymphocytic Meningitis, probable viral etiology

Manner of Death: Natural


Rationale for Classification: The deceased was a 19 year old, 4-sport athlete who was taking part in a "voluntary" strength and agility training. He came to the University of Missouri in the summer of 2004 and stayed on the University as a student. The voluntary training runs for a total of 26 workouts , 8 hours a week and started on the 6th. of June. The day that he died was a Tuesday the 12th of July 2005. On Mondays the athletes worked on "speed technique". On Tuesdays it was "agility and lateral movement" followed by an hour of weight lifting .

The temperature at 2:p.m. on that day was 83 degrees with the humidity at 55% to 56%. The dew point was 63 and the barometer reading was 29.97.

The temperature at 3:p.m. was 84 degrees, the dew point and humidity were the same and the barometer was at 3:p.m. The humidity was the same as in the previous 2 hours.

The training session on Tuesday started at 1:33 p.m. There was a 15 minute "dynamic" warm up and a 2 minute "stretch".

There were 6 stations for the 12 players in the afternoon session. There was enough water at every station in addition to water bottles for each of the players.

The 1st. Station was a "20 yard drill" to be completed in 4.6 seconds and Aaron did two of those at that speed.

The 2nd. Station was "3 cone agility" in a 30 yard distance. Aaron could complete this in 7 seconds and he did 2 reps. of this with no apparent problem.

The 3rd . Station was "RACE drill" (reaction, acceleration, change of direction and effort)

This took 10 seconds for one rep.

The 4th. Station was "5 cone agility" with 40 yards and 80 yards. Aaron completed that with no apparent problem.

The 5th. Station "6 bag drill" with a total of 60 yards that normally takes 8 seconds to complete. The first time Aaron did not do it at full effort (this was obvious to the staff) and so had to repeat the drill which he did at full effort.

The 6th. Station was "combination agility" and consisted of 4 different drills. Each one lasted from 6 to 8 seconds.

The 12 players were grouped into threes. There was a 4 to 1 ratio of rest to work for the 12 players.

Aaron was in the last group of three. The first three drills were completed successfully. At the 4th drill the group of three had to repeat the drill because of another player. The next they had to repeat the drill because of Aaron. He should have jogged rather than walked to the starting line. They had to repeat it again and this time Aaron walked and jogged. He was "sluggish" and "shuffling rather than jogging". During the bear crawl "he was on his hands and knees rather than on his hands and feet". This again was extremely unusual for Aaron.

One of his team mates asked him what the problem was and Aaron replied that he had not eaten that day. Supposedly Aaron had not performed well on the 10th of June 2005 and that day also supposedly he had not eaten. On that occasion however he did not lie on the turf or display the unusual behavior that he did on this day. Hence this time around his below par performance was attributed to that factor.

The coach blew the whistle for the "post stretch". During the stretch Aaron was unsteady. The stretch consisted of a forward bend to the crossed feet. Aaron seemed to be repeatedly losing his balance. "He was wobbling".

Then the coach talked to all the players with the usual post drill announcements. Aaron was at the back of the group and he leaned on the shoulder of one of the players. He was heard to say "Oh Gosh" and then went to the ground "slowly" first on his hands and then on his knees and finally lay down on the turf. This is an "unwritten" violation of an "unwritten rule" though an occasional player has done this in the past. Aaron has never done this before and this was highly unusual for him. Aaron stated to two people on the field, one a player and one a coach, that he could not see and his vision was blurred.

When the coach observed Aaron lying on the turf he asked all the players to move forward so that a staff trainer could render assistance to Aaron. The individual approached and stated that there was nothing that could be done. Just to give a brief insight into Aaron as a player: both his team mates and the coaching staff stated he never complained. He knew what had to be done and just did it. One of the coaches describes Aaron as a "tenacious competitor" and that "he did not ever give up". This opinion was gotten from everyone interviewed.

One of the staff assisted Aaron to get up and walk to his weight lifting group (still on the field). After the group instructions Aaron walked off the field and was assisted by another player off the field for the last 20 or so yards to the locker room. The assistance consisted of Aaron putting his arm on his team mate's shoulder.

Once in the locker room Aaron leaned his back on the wall and just slid to the floor and then proceeded to lie on the floor. His team mates were all the time encouraging him to get up and he kept saying that he could not get up and that he was exhausted. One player observed that "he was stuttering and deep breathing". A staff person stated that "he looked like he was passed out drunk". At this time he was not talking. Conversations with Aaron at this time were one sided.

In the locker room a player poured water on him and noted that his tongue was white and he cradled his head and gave him water to drink which Aaron spat out. They tried to slap his face to get him up. He was "deep breathing" at this time. He was "gasping and moaning" and now the staff person and player tried to get him up but could not because Aaron was limp and could not assist them in picking him up off the ground where he lay. The staff person then decided to get help and went to look for someone to assist. He spotted a landscape truck and got the driver to back up to the locker room. With a great deal of difficulty (Aaron kept slipping through their arms as they tried to lift him up off the ground) they put Aaron in the truck. Aaron was seated between a staff person and the driver of the truck. He could not hold his head up and the staff person held his head up by holding onto his chin. He was taken to the training center. Throughout the ride to the training center there was no verbal response from Aaron. He was unconscious. The player that assisted in putting Aaron in the truck traveled in the truck but at the back. While in the locker room and in the truck Aaron was moaning.

He was then carried into the training center and placed on a table. A staff person checked for a pulse and noted that he had a weak pulse. At one point there was no pulse. The staff person decided to use the AED; however the monitor said "no shock advised". Rescue was called. During this entire time Aaron was unconscious. The body temperature was not recorded. The opinion of everyone interviewed who were either working out with him that day or observing as staff was that the day was not excessively hot and that the training schedule for the day was not overly strenuous.

The autopsy revealed a well nourished, well built, muscular, 19 year old male. There was no drama to the body. The brain was examined by a neuropathologist. The brain was edematous and there was a lymphocytic meningitis and evidence of sickling in the vessels. This same finding (sickling) was evident in the vessels of all the organs that were examined microscopically. The postmortem blood was examined for hemoglobinopathies and he was found to have the sickle cell trait. The heart was examined by a cardiac pathologist. He determined that the deceased had changes that are seen in athletes. There was no pathology in the heart to account for the death. The rest of the organs did not show any pathology that could have resulted in his death. The toxicology was negative for drugs and alcohol including ephedrine and pseudo ephedrine. Additional testing for steroids was also negative. The toxicology was submitted to two independent laboratories. The lungs showed edema and congestion. Reviewing all the symptoms and signs that Aaron displayed both on and off the football field that day his death was clearly neurological and not cardiac based on this inability to get up, The visual difficulty as voiced by Aaron to two people on the field at 2 different times, the "wobbling" and "shuffling" on the field, the "off balance", the extended period of respiratory difficulty well demonstrated by an eye witness who describes both the labored breathing and the agonal breathing. The cardiac rhythm was never one of rhythm disturbance but rather asystole. The heat factor that day and the training program in place was the same for all the players and not unique to Aaron. The environmental factor hence was not an issue in this death. It was the human factor i.e. the neurological findings at autopsy that caused his demise.

Based on the extensive data base surrounding the circumstances of this death the circumstances of this death the cause and manner of death are as listed above.

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