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Teen's Death Turns Focus On Student Athlete Safety

Jun 13, 2019

An afternoon football practice turned tragic on Tuesday when a 14-year-old suddenly collapsed.

Tampa Police say the Middleton High School football team was just half an hour into conditioning drills when Hezekiah Walters fell to the ground. He was later pronounced dead at St. Joseph’s Hospital. 

Walters’ cause of death is still unknown, but University of South Florida Health professor Dr. Eric Coris said heat stroke is one of the leading causes of death among young athletes. 

He said it’s important to know your limits before exercising outdoors in hot weather. 

“It takes about seven to ten sessions of working out in the heat to be properly acclimatized,” said Coris. “So make sure you're in shape before you put yourself in a position where you'll be working out really hard.”

Coris said sometimes people show no symptoms of heat stroke before they collapse. However, people will typically feel a progression of heat illness the longer they’re exposed to high temperatures. 

“Generally, heat illness has varying levels of severity, the least severe being heat cramps, where you just start to cramp from fatigue and dehydration,” said Coris. “And then more severe heat exhaustion, where you’re starting to get fatigued and don’t feel like you can go on.”

“And then heat stroke is the most severe. That’s where you start to get mental status changes while exercising in the heat. That’s truly a medical emergency.” 

Dr. Coris said if someone know starts showing symptoms of heat stroke, they should be submerged in ice water up to their chest. He said cooling down the body rapidly is critical in helping someone recover from heat stroke.

Coaches at Hillsborough County schools are required to follow the Florida High School Athletic Association’s (FHSAA) guidelines on hydration. These include five minutes of rest for every 30 minutes of practice, unlimited access to water, and a “cooling zone” out of direct sunlight. 

Meanwhile, student athletes are required to complete courses on sudden cardiac arrest, concussion in sports, and heat illness prevention. 

The Hillsborough County school board has suspended all athletic activities for the summer until coaches review safety procedures, and staff check student’s medical records. 

“Conditioning can resume at a school once they get us the information that the requirements above have been met and we let the school know they can resume,” a statement from the board said.