Obituary: Ryan Fleming / Cardiac arrest fells Duquesne University sophomore

Jan. 17, 1994 - Jan. 26, 2014


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Ryan Fleming, a sophomore business student and assistant to the director of football operations at Duquesne University, died of cardiac arrest Sunday morning.

Mr. Fleming, 20, of Richland, was the eldest son of Thomas P. Fleming Jr., superintendent of the Richland School District, and Cambria County Judge Linda Fleming.

A 2012 graduate of Richland High School in Johnstown, he was a 4.0 student on an academic scholarship at Duquesne.

"I don't know anybody that has a better combination of work ethic and intelligence," said high school friend Connor Sease, a sophomore at Penn State University.

A former high school letterman in football and basketball, Mr. Fleming had a deep-seated love for athletics that traced back to his father, a former high school football coach.

"Ryan became very good in numbers," his father said, "because at a young age, I'd quiz him: If a team scored a touchdown and a two-point conversion and a field goal, how many points would they have? He was able to rattle it off well before most kids would be able to do arithmetic."

As a freshman at Duquesne, Mr. Fleming joined the football team as an assistant to director of football operations John Rosato. Duquesne head coach Jerry Schmitt is Mr. Fleming's uncle.

"I don't think many of the football players knew that Jerry was his uncle," Thomas Fleming said, "because he refused to call him 'Uncle Jerry.' He didn't want anybody to think he got any kind of special attention."

Saturday night, Mr. Fleming met his girlfriend, Angela Palchowski, president of the Duquesne's basketball student section, to head to the Dukes game against St. Bonaventure.

Mr. Fleming complained of chest pain before the game, but it relented after 45 minutes. This was nothing new. He had been diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome last year, a condition in which there is an extra electrical pathway of the heart that can lead to episodes of rapid heart rate.

He hadn't had trouble, the family said, but as a precautionary measure, he underwent a cardiac ablation in December, an eight-hour surgery intended to shut down the extra pathway. The surgery was unsuccessful, but doctors completed an electrophysiology mapping of the heart and told the family he was at low risk for any complications.

Since the surgery, Ms. Palchowski said, Mr. Fleming had experienced a racing heart every day or two. Saturday night, after the game, his heart rate increased rapidly again. The episode lasted two hours.

"You could feel it right through his coat," Ms. Palchowski said.

"Angela, it's so bad," she remembered Mr. Fleming saying. "I'm 20 years old; it shouldn't be like this. I shouldn't feel like this. I shouldn't have heart problems."

Mr. Fleming headed back to his dorm. The next morning, he didn't join Ms. Palchowski to go to 11 o'clock Mass.

The Allegheny County medical examiner's office confirmed he died at 10:19 a.m.

"He touched a lot of lives," his mother said. "Everybody remembers that he was always smiling."

In addition to his parents, Mr. Fleming is survived by his 18-year-old brother, Tyler.

A Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Saturday in St. Clement Catholic Church in Johnstown, Cambria County. The family says contributions may be made to the Community Foundation for a scholarship in Mr. Fleming's name.


Stephen J. Nesbitt: snesbitt@post-gazette.com, 412-290-2183 or on Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.

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