Sickle cell trait and fatal rhabdomyolysis in football training: A case study

Mary L. Anzalone, Valerie S. Green, Maximillian Buja, Luis A. Sanchez, Rajesh I. Harrykissoon, E. Randy Eichner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Scopus citations


We report the athletic, the clinical, and the pathological details of a case of fatal rhabdomyolysis during training in a college football player with sickle cell trait (SCT) who collapsed minutes after running 16 successive sprints of 100 yd each. The player, 19 yr old, African American, was apparently healthy when he took the field for the conditioning run. No exertional heat illness was present. After collapsing on-field, the player soon went into coma and developed fulminant rhabdomyolysis, profound lactic acidosis, acute myoglobinuric renal failure, refractory hyperkalemia, and disseminated intravascular coagulation. Despite intensive care in the hospital, he died about 15 h after admission, likely from a hyperkalemic cardiac arrhythmia; the terminal rhythm was pulseless electrical activity. The forensic autopsy confirmed that the cause of death was acute exertional rhabdomyolysis associated with SCT. Counting this case, at least 15 college football players with SCT have died from complications of exertional sickling, as have younger football players and other athletes. In SCT, maximal, sustained exercise evokes four forces that can foster sickling: hypoxemia, acidosis, hyperthermia, and red cell dehydration. The setting, the clinical and laboratory features, and the clinicopathological correlation here suggest that the fulminant rhabdomyolysis and its fatal sequelae were from exertional sickling. These data suggest that screening and simple precautions for SCT may be warranted to prevent tragedies like this and enable all athletes with SCT to thrive in their sports.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-7
Number of pages5
JournalMedicine and science in sports and exercise
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2010


  • Dic
  • Hyperkalemia
  • Lactic acidosis
  • Renal failure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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