A forensic pathologist says the Chadron State College football player who died on the first day of practice in August suffered from "exercise-related complications associated with sickle cell trait."
Goll, 20, died Aug. 11. A preliminary autopsy report had indicated he had an enlarged heart that likely contributed to his death.
But in findings released following an in-depth review of Goll’s medical records, the autopsy and other testing, Dr. Pete Schilke, a forensic pathologist at Regional West Medical Center, revealed a connection to the sickle cell trait.
Since 2000 there have been 26 deaths in NCAA Division I football, 11 due to sickle cell trait, experts said. Chadron State plays in NCAA Division II.
Goll checked himself out of a non-contact drill during practice the morning of his death. A news release from Dawes County Coroner Vance Haug said he was suffering from fatigue and cramping and eventually collapsed. Records indicate that ambulance crews were called to the football field at 11:16 a.m., arrived on scene at 11:21 and were en route to the Chadron Community Hospital three minutes later.
Despite efforts to revive Goll, he was pronounced dead at the hospital at 12:30 p.m.
Haug’s news release says that testing found Hemoglobin S, a sickle cell trait, in Goll’s blood sample, and a review of his medical records indicates he had tested positive for sickle cell trait in July 2015 during a physical to play football at Florida A&M University.
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The NCAA requires that student-athletes at all levels must be screened for sickle cell trait or sign a waiver declining the test.
Joel Smith, Chadron State's athletic director, said that the college does not transfer records from other schools but instead requires its student-athletes to take the physical or sign the waiver. Alex Helmbrecht, a Chadron State spokesman, said that Goll signed the waiver.
"Chadron State College only learned that he had sickle cell trait after he died," Helmbrecht said.
Dr. E. Randy Eichner, a professor emeritus of medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, contacted the newspaper and officials investigating Goll’s death in the days after he collapsed at practice. He has researched sickle cell trait for 30 years and spent 14 years at the University of Oklahoma studying the issue and working with the football team there to reduce the number of deaths related to sickle cell trait.
He said that all-out, sustained exercise increases the risk for those with sickle cell trait. During those periods of exercise, the hemoglobin carrying oxygen to the body changes from round to a quarter moon shape and clogs the blood vessels, decreasing the oxygen supply to the muscles.
Another factor in Goll’s death was likely the elevation, Haug’s news release says. Research shows that a substantial change in elevation levels can trigger problems. Goll had been living in Weatherford, Texas, at an elevation of 1,053 feet. Chadron is at 3,379 feet.