Lawsuit targets Slippery Rock

Deceased athlete was not tested for sickle cell trait

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The parents of a Slippery Rock University student who collapsed and died at basketball practice two years ago are suing the school and the NCAA for failing to test their son for the sickle cell trait.

Jack Hill Jr. was a 21-year-old senior information technology major when he collapsed at the Morrow Field House in September 2011 and died.

The lawsuit, filed in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas by his parents, Jack Hill Sr. and Cheryl Hill, of Roselle, N.J., also names as defendants the McLachlan Student Health Center and a certified registered nurse practitioner there.

University spokeswoman Rita Abent said she could not comment on the lawsuit until it is reviewed, and that generally, school policy is to not comment on pending litigation.

According to the complaint, Jack Hill Jr. tried out for the basketball team the year before, but didn't make it and was considered to be overweight at 6 feet tall and 261 pounds. Instead, he served as the team manager for that year, and in 2011, was attempting to make it as a walk-on.

Prior to the 2010 season, Hill had an athletic physical exam by a nurse practitioner.

As part of that exam, he filled out a history and checklist, noting that he did not have sickle cell anemia or sickle cell trait even though he had never been tested for them.

An estimated 2 million Americans have sickle cell trait, meaning they carry one copy of the sickle cell gene. But with sickle cell disease, which requires two genes, red blood cells become hard and sticky and shaped like a sickle, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Those cells die early, causing a shortage of red blood cells and reducing blood flow. People with sickle cell trait can be at risk during extreme physical exertion.

"At no point did defendants require or request a simple blood test that would have determined whether Jack had [sickle cell trait] or [sickle cell anemia,]" the lawsuit said. Further, it continued, no one at the university health center ever informed Hill of the potential dangers of such a condition.

On Sept. 9, 2011, the lawsuit said, Hill was participating in a late-night practice called the "insanity workout ... intended to serve as a punishment for the entire team." It was the team's third practice of the day, the complaint said.

Instead of including basketball drills and scrimmages, the complaint said, the practice involved "extreme, high intensity conditioning and weightlifting drills."

Hill had asked to be excluded from portions of the earlier practices, the attorneys allege, but coaches refused.

With a little more than 13 minutes left in the late-night practice, Hill collapsed. He became unresponsive and stopped breathing.

The Hill family attorneys allege that CPR was performed briefly, but stopped before emergency personnel arrived. In addition, although a coaching staff member retrieved an automated external defibrillator, no member of the team or training staff tried to resuscitate Hill.

"Rather, a fellow student improperly attempted to use the AED on Jack as coaches and trainers did nothing. "

Hill was taken to Grove City Medical Center, where he died a short time later.

An autopsy showed his death was caused by complications related to sickle cell trait.

"Because the Slippery Rock defendants had not tested Jack or required that he be tested for [sickle cell trait] or related conditions, officers were unable to properly help resuscitate Jack, which resuscitation requires special measures that differ from the ordinary treatment for exercise induced cardiac arrest when a patient has [sickle cell trait]," the lawsuit said.

In its allegations against the NCAA, the lawsuit said that the organization has been aware of the risks of sickle cell trait since 1975, and beginning in August 2010 mandated testing for it in all Division I student athletes.

However, testing did not become mandatory for Division II schools -- which includes Slippery Rock -- until August 2012.

The complaint includes claims for negligence and wrongful death.

A spokeswoman for the NCAA said the organization was reviewing the complaint.

education - sportscollegedistrict

Paula Reed Ward:, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter @PaulaReedWard.


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