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

comment.”

The

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

participation.

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

tryout.

Thompson said recently that he plans to retire Dec. 1.

After Milandu’s death, A&T filed a report saying that it did

not follow

NCAA policy on the collection of

physicals.

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

and died.

“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

message Thursday.

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

said.

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

collapses.

“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

gerald.witt@news-record.com

An

NCAA-required physical could have

protected the student, one doctor says.