A 20-year-old footballer inexplicably collapsed Tuesday night during practice in Bodden Town and later died.
Gerome Graham, a long-time Bodden Town Football Club team member and a one-time member of the Cayman Islands national team, was taken to hospital by ambulance and has since been pronounced dead, according to Sports and Health Minister Mark Scotland.
Gerome’s coach, Elbert McLean, confirmed his death Wednesday morning. Mr. McLean said the team wasn’t actually having an official practice Tuesday night, just “a little kick around” at the Haig Bodden Football Field.
“We won’t know what happened until a postmortem is conducted,” Mr. McLean said, indicating he expected that procedure to be completed sometime on Wednesday, although a report on it might not be issued until next week. The coach declined to say anything further Wednesday: “Today’s just not a good day”.
Minister Scotland, who is also the Bodden Town Football Club president, said he was stunned by Gerome’s sudden passing.
“I’ve known Gerome since he was a little boy,” said Mr. Scotland, who has been involved with the Bodden Town Football Club for the last 25 years. “He’s never had any health problems, that I know of.”
Mr. Scotland said he had been contact with Mr. Graham’s family and had passed along his condolences. The health minister said he had received no reports as to why the youngster had suddenly collapsed on the pitch, which is next to the Bodden Town Police Station.
“I know Gerome extremely well, and he’s one of the fittest members of the Bodden Town team,” Mr. Scotland said of the midfielder.
Stephen Duval, emergency medical services director at the Health Services Authority, said he had received reports from staff that Gerome was playing football and “just went unconscious and suddenly collapsed” around 7.40pm Tuesday.
Mr. Duval said an ambulance just happened to be in the vicinity and responded quickly.
Health Services Authority Acting Chief Medical Officer Delroy Jefferson said Wednesday that doctors wouldn’t know precisely what happened until the post-mortem results were recevied. However, Dr. Jefferson noted that, in general, such incidents in young athletes were often brought on by ‘cardiac dysrhythmia” or an irregular heart beat.
“This is something that can happen and usually its something that has to do with cardiac,” Dr. Jefferson said. “Something just precipitates an abnormal heartbeat.”
There has been plenty of international publicity surrounding the deaths or near-deaths of football players and other athletes in recent years.
Italian football matches were postponed two months ago after club side Livorno’s Piermario Morosini, 25, collapsed and died on the field during a match in Pescara.
Fabrice Muamba, 23, of Bolton Wanderers collapsed during a game in March and had actually stopped breathing for a time before physicians managed to revive him.
Spanish football star Antonio Puerta, 23, died in 2007 of heart defects when playing in La Liga for Sevilla.
Athletes in other sports have died from sudden collapse, mainly due to heart conditions, including University of Minnesota American football player Gary Tinsley, who died at home two months ago; baseball pitcher Joe Kennedy, 28, died from heart failure; Jason Collier, the Atlanta Hawks 7-foot basketball centre died at 28 from stoppage of an enlarged heart; and Denver Broncos running back Damien Nash, 24, died from heart failure in 2007.
Having an enlarged heart is a major cause of sudden death among young athletes and sports experts say better screening is needed. However, the procedure is often considered cost prohibitive.
Minister Scotland said Gerome’s death served as a reminder of how important routine health checks are, even for younger people.
“You can’t be too young for these health checks,” Mr. Scotland said.