The List of Athletes

Brian Piccolo

Brian Piccolo with the Bears. (CHICAGO TRIBUNE)

January 18, 2010

A range of heart abnormalities has played out dramatically among athletes in all sports at all levels. Just last week, before Gaines Adams’ death Sunday, a 21-year-old college basketball player collapsed during a game and died. Adams also joins an unfortunate list of Bears players who have lost their lives while on the active roster. Among the notable:

Heart-related deathsHank Gathers: The Loyola Marymount star was 23 when he collapsed and died during a game on March 4, 1990. An autopsy revealed that Gathers, who had fainting spells months earlier, suffered from cardiomyopathy, a heart-muscle disorder.

Thomas Herrion: The 49ers guard was 23 when he collapsed in the visitors’ locker room minutes after an exhibition game in Denver on Aug. 20, 2005. He was pronounced dead shortly thereafter. His right coronary artery was nearly blocked, an autopsy found. 

Jeron Lewis: The Southern Indiana center, 21, collapsed with about 4 minutes to go in Thursday night’s game against Kentucky Wesleyan in Owensboro, Ky. There were signs of convulsion and he was rushed to a hospital, where he died. A coroner ruled a heart condition may have caused his death.

Reggie Lewis: The 27-year-old Boston Celtic died during a light workout on July 27, 1993, three months after fainting during an NBA playoff game. Although a team of specialists had diagnosed him with heart disease, Lewis received clearance to resume playing from his own cardiologist, who said Lewis had “a normal athlete’s heart.” An autopsy showed his heart was enlarged and scarred by a viral infection.

Ryan Shay: A favorite to make the Olympic marathon team, he was 28 when he collapsed 5 1/2 miles into the U.S. trials in New York on Nov. 3, 2007. His father said he had a pre-existing enlarged heart condition.

On-the-court scares Marcus Camby: The Massachusetts center fell unconscious on the court shortly before a Jan. 1996 game, but subsequent tests showed no heart problems. He is continuing his 14-year NBA career.

Nick Knapp: After the Northwestern recruit collapsed in 1994 while a 17-year-old senior at Peoria Woodruff High School because of cardiac arrest, Northwestern barred him from playing or practicing. He transferred to Northeastern Illinois and then to Ashland (Ohio), where he was the leading three-point and free-throw shooter on a 20-9 team.

Bears deathsWillie Galimore and John “Bo” Farrington:In 1964, running back Galimore, 29, and end Farrington, 28, were killed in a one-car accident during training camp. Galimore had helped lead the Bears to the 1963 NFLchampionship.

Brian Piccolo: Running back immortalized in “Brian’s Song,” died on on June 16, 1970, at the age of 26 after an eight-month battle with cancer. He had intended to return to football after a 4 ½ -hour surgery in late 1969 to remove tumor from his chest.

Fred Washington: Washington, a 23-year-old rookie defensive tackle, and 22-year-old Petra Stoll of Palatine died in a one-car accident off Waukegan Road, two miles from Washington’s residence, early in the morning of Dec. 21, 1990.

Sources: Tribune research, Tribune news services, NPR

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