UCF officials say they notified football player Ereck Plancher that he tested positive for sickle-cell trait as part of a team physical exam. They also say they monitored his activities in workouts.
But family members and friends told the Orlando Sentinel on Friday that Plancher never disclosed the diagnosis to them. Plancher died of complications triggered by the trait in a March 18 off-season workout.
Wood Faugue, Plancher's cousin, said the news contained in the Orange County medical examiner's full autopsy report released on Friday came as a shock to those close to Plancher.
"None of us had any idea, and I'm sure if they did inform him of that he would have told at least one of us," Faugue said.
A family member at the Plancher home in Naples said Ereck's parents are visiting relatives in Haiti and had not been informed of the autopsy results. Other family members learned the cause of his death through media reports on Thursday. The relative said the Planchers have hired an attorney to represent them and are expected to return to Naples next week.
UCF spokesman Grant Heston said the university first learned Plancher had the sickle-cell trait following a physical exam in January 2007, and that trainers and coaches were aware of that diagnosis.
"We have said repeatedly that Ereck passed all of his physicals and was cleared to participate fully by UCF team physicians," UCF Athletics Director Keith Tribble said in a statement released by the university. "Our staff advised Ereck of his sickle-cell trait and monitored his physical condition at every practice and workout."
Plancher's autopsy report states analysis conducted by the Wuesthoff Reference Laboratory in Melbourne found Plancher collapsed and died as a result of "dysrhythmia brought on by exertional rhabdomyolysis with sickle-cell trait" -- meaning his heart stopped because of the "sickling" of his cells in the heart, lungs, liver, spleen, pancreas, kidneys, adrenal glands and thymus. The report said Plancher was predisposed to the sickling of red blood cells during periods of physical stress.
The toxicology analysis as well as the internal examination of all his systems showed no defects or irregularities.
The sickle-cell trait can hamper the ability of cells to carry oxygen and has been cited as the cause of sudden death of numerous athletes after strenuous exercise -- including Florida State freshman Devaughn Darling, who collapsed during off-season conditioning drills in 2001.
A normal blood cell is smooth and round. When it sickles, it becomes misshaped and malformed. It also becomes sticky, making it easier for blood to clump or clot as is flows through the body, which leads to problems.
The National Athletic Trainers Association in 2007 called for athletes with sickle-cell trait to be withheld from activity when symptoms arise. The group stated an athlete should be pulled from training immediately if he or she experiences such symptoms as muscle cramping, pain, swelling, weakness, tenderness, inability to "catch breath" or fatigue, the guidelines state. The NCAA's 2008-09 Sports Medicine Handbook encourages trainers to observe the NATA guidelines.
Players in the workout with Plancher told the Sentinel in April that he was gasping for breath and staggering before he collapsed on the day of his death. Those four players, granted anonymity because they said they feared reprisals from coaches, described the workout as being far more intense than it was initially described by UCF officials and coaches. They said Plancher fell during the team's final sprint. They also said O'Leary singled out and cursed Plancher for lack of effort shortly before the player collapsed, an accusation O'Leary denied.
O'Leary has declined comment to the Sentinel about the case since the April 11 report but released a statement Friday.
"The health of our student-athletes is our top priority, and we provide superb medical care at UCF," he said. "I am confident our medical staff will evaluate this report in detail as part of our ongoing review."
UCF officials said school trainers observed NATA guidelines during the workout and Plancher received proper medical care.
"As we have repeatedly said, Ereck fell during the final sprint of the workout," UCF spokesman Grant Heston said. "That sprint was not a 'serial sprint' that is identified in the NATA guidelines [as an exercise athletes should not do]. As soon as Ereck was in distress, our staff immediately attended to him."
Tribble said in his statement issued by the school Friday that UCF medical staff will thoroughly review the autopsy report.
"And let me say this: if our staff determines changes should be made in light of this report, I am committed to making those happen," Tribble said.
Sentinel staff writer Robyn Shelton contributed to this report. Iliana Lim�n can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Kyle Hightower can be reached at email@example.com.