Ruptured Aorta Reason For Jackson Student's Death

By: Lauren Zakalik Email
By: Lauren Zakalik Email

As Anthony Stephens' classmates at Jackson High School paint their school rock in his memory, no one can quite understand how this young and seemingly healthy athlete died.

"We're shocked," says Principal Scott Hutchins. "We just can't understand how this could happen to someone so healthy."

He died after collapsing on the basketball court during gym class Tuesday. According to the Jackson County Medical Examiner, the cause of death was a dissected aortic rupture, which caused fatal internal bleeding. The examiner, Dr. John Maino, says Stephens died as soon as it happened. Ingham County Medical Examiner Dr. Dean Sienko says there was no way to save Stephens' life.

"Defibrillators aren't going to help here," Sienko says. "This is a surgical matter."

"This is very unusual," echoes Dr. R.K. Thakur, a cardiologist at Sparrow Hospital.

Thakur says aortic ruptures happen when the thin walls of the aorta burst. This rarely happens with young people, but when it does, he points to one reason:

"My first suspicion is that he had Marfan's Syndrome, which leads to the weakening of the aortic walls," Thakur says.

Marfan's Syndrome is a genetic organ abnormality that's usually found in very tall people; Stephens' was only around 5'10" or 5'11". The Jackson County Medical Examiner is still looking into whether or not Stephens had Marfan's; if he did, his family and school didn't know about it.

"We looked at his sports physical and medical records, and there was no previous conditions," Hutchins says.

"This rupture would not really occur outside of Marfan's," Thakur adds.

Both Dr.'s Sienko and Thakur say Stephens' death shouldn't worry parents; it's extraordinarily rare, and exercise will almost always do more good than bad in growing children.

Sadly, that doesn't change Stephens' situation.

"Quite frankly, even with the autopsy results, we still can't figure it out. He was such a healthy guy and his heart just stopped," Hutchins says.

But it's his heart, kind as it was, that Stephens will be remembered for.


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