Dr. Jeff Dennis, the attending physician when Ole Miss Defensive Back Bennie Abram arrived at the emergency room at Baptist Hospital in Oxford after collapsing in an early morning offseason workout, announced in a brief press conference today the cause of death - as revealed by the autopsy - was "related to complications from sickle cell trait and exertion."
Further delving into the matter of Abram's death, however, revealed there could have been other contributing factors, i.e., the "perfect storm," that led to Abram's passing.
"Bennie had some upper respiratory issues the night before, his roommate told us afterward, and had gone to the pharmacy for some medicine. He had not revealed that to us (prior to the workout)," said Dennis. "The autopsy report also revealed as a contributing factor cardiomegaly (enlarged heart). Bennie also had a history of asthma."
Dennis and the Ole Miss trainers knew Abram had the sickle cell trait - Ole Miss has been testing for that since the late 1980s.
"Nearly 8% of the African-American population has sickle cell trait. It's fairly common and does not prohibit an athlete from competing. Sickle cell trait does lead to increased risk for sudden death events, but in most circumstances athletes do very well with sickle cell trait," said Dennis. "When he presented (collapsed) on the practice field, he was treated with that condition in mind and we treated him accordingly when we got him to the emergency room. Our awareness of that condition is something we are very conscious of. Hopefully, there will be more answers as science evolves."
With sickle cell trait, the protocol is to ease athletes into strenuous workouts. Bennie collapsed on the first hard day of the offseason, but had been working with the team under supervision four weeks prior to the event.
"Although it happened on the first day of group team conditioning in the offseason, it was not the first day Bennie had worked out with us. He had been training for four weeks prior to his collapse under the supervision of our trainers and strength coaches," said Shannon Singletary, the Senior Associate AD for Sports Medicine.
"No matter how much you prepare, educate yourself and set protocol for dealing with emergency situations, you continually try to evaluate and do it better. As research comes in on sickle cell trait, which we don't quite clearly understand, we will advance at Ole Miss in the way we handle these situations. All procedures we had in place right now were followed with Bennie."
When Bennie got to the emergency room, his lab work indicated he had serious problems, but he responded to treatment initially.
"We administered IV fluid and oxygen therapy. During the time we were doing diagnostic testing, he showed improvement. We sent him to ICU and there was no indication he would not get better," said Dennis. "The episode that led to his death in ICU could have been a shock that sometimes occurs with sickle cell trait that leads to more severe complications, such as arrhythmia and metabolic derangement. There is no absolute treatment process when that happens. It was not a straight forward case."
Bennie will be remembered, according to Ole Miss Athletics Director Pete Boone and Coach Houston Nutt.
"We didn't have Bennie long here at Ole Miss, but his personality and energy will be with us a long time," said Boone.
It was announced at the Grove Bowl Bennie will be honored by the 2010 football team.
"We will dedicate our season to him and we will wear his initials (B.A.) on our helmets next year," said Nutt. "Bennie, Sr., is also going to talk to the team sometime during two-a-days in August. He said some great things to the team the day Bennie passed and he now has a highlight video he has put together we will show the team.
"Like Pete said, Bennie's work ethic and enthusiasm were outstanding and that is how he will be remembered here."
For the Abram family, who was in attendance for the press conference, things are slowly getting better.
"Everything is getting better. It has not been easy, but day-to-day we get better. To lose a child is traumatic. Before this happened, I could not have dreamed of anything of this nature," said Mr. Abram. "We have drawn on our faith tremendously.
"Through this whole ordeal, Ole Miss has been great - very supportive. They have been there in every way. We couldn't ask for more as we move forward."
Abram autopsy results revealed
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