Autopsy cites sickle cell trait in A&T death
GREENSBORO – Jospin “Andre” Milandu’s death could have been
prevented if N.C. A&T had followed
NCAA rules for physicals, a
physician who studies sickle cell trait said.
An autopsy report by the N.C. Medical Examiner’s Office released
Thursday showed that Milandu died from complications of the sickle
cell trait and physical exertion.
“They were mandated to screen him,” said Dr. Randy Eichner,
professor emeritus of medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health
Sciences Center . “If they had done that, then they would have
known about the trait.”
Eichner helped craft the
NCAA’s policy on sickle cell trait
and has worked in college lawsuits on sickle-related deaths.
A&T Athletics Director Wheeler Brown, reached Thursday
evening, did not speak to the autopsy findings.
“I have not had an opportunity to view what you’re talking about
right now,” Brown said. “And I would not venture to make a
NCAA, the sanctioning body for
intercollegiate athletics, requires students who participate or try
out for sports to have a physical and a record – or signed release
– for sickle cell trait testing.
That paperwork must be on file before any athletic
Milandu, 20, of Knightdale died after collapsing at a track and
field tryout Aug. 19. He did not have a current physical at the
A&T athletics department and did not have a record of a sickle
cell trait test.
Milandu was among 29 students at the tryout without a physical,
according to Chancellor Harold Martin, who released that
information Sept. 8.
That figure has since been disputed by track and field coach Roy
Thompson , who has run the A&T program for 26 years. Thompson
has said that only nine students lacked physicals on file at the
Thompson said recently that he plans to retire Dec. 1.
After Milandu’s death, A&T filed a report saying that it did
NCAA policy on the collection of
Milandu’s death is the second sickle-related at A&T since
2008 ; a
football player died after he
collapsed at practice.
Eichner said the conditions surrounding Milandu’s death are
similar to those of other athletes who had the sickle cell trait
“This death scares me,” he said. “This is their second in two
years. … They’re going to be, I assume, in big trouble.”
Eichner said lawsuits against a university often are filed by
the surviving family.
Milandu’s father, Fernand Milandu , did not return a phone
Milandu died during a workout called ins-and-outs. Runners go
fast in straightaways and jog through curves.
Understanding how he died requires some basic knowledge of what
blood does in a body.
Normal red blood cells, which deliver oxygen to the body, are
round and flexible. Sickle cells are quarter-moon shaped. They are
sticky and harder than normal red blood cells, Eichner said.
The trait is a genetic condition that anyone can have, but it is
more prevalent in those of central and west African descent.
When the body works hard, it needs more oxygen, so demand is
higher on red blood cells.
“Low blood oxygen causes cells to sickle,” Eichner said, “and
they will sickle with exertion.”
At that point, Eichner said, the odd-shaped cells get stuck in
blood vessels. The effect for a runner is like putting a tight
tourniquet around each leg and going for a sprint.
“The muscles’ cells are starting to die with no oxygen,” he
The muscles then release chemicals that the body can’t handle.
In particular, potassium is released, which makes the blood acidic.
And the possibility of kidney failure also exists.
The affected person remains aware for a while after collapse.
That’s different from most heart- , heat- or asthma-related
“It’s a syndrome that occurs out in the field,” Eichner said.
“In police, military, basketball,
football, firefighters and on the
track. Even your average physician doesn’t see it.”
But Milandu’s death could lead to new awareness of the sickle
cell trait, Eichner said.
“This will be the first proven one in college track that I know
of,” he said.
Contact Gerald Witt at 373-7008 or
NCAA-required physical could have
protected the student, one doctor says.