State News

Autopsy: Knightdale track athlete had sickle-cell trait

Posted October 15, 2010 7:06 a.m. EDT
Updated October 16, 2010 9:18 a.m. EDT

— A Knightdale High School graduate trying out for the North Carolina A&T University track team died of a blood problem that could have been caught if he had had a physical exam, according to an autopsy report released Friday.

The findings led N.C. A&T to fire its athletics director.

The autopsy determined Jospin "Andre" Milandu, 20, of Knightdale, died in August as a result of complications of sickle-cell trait, combined with with physical exertion.

The genetic blood disorder causes red blood cells to form an abnormal sickle shape that limits their oxygen-carrying ability can damage organs and cause other serious problems, including putting people more at risk for heat-related problems.

"If this is an extertional heat-related death, it could have been prevented," said Dr. Rupa Redding-Lallinger, co-director of the Comprehensive Sickle Cell Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Redding-Lallinger cited NCAA rules that require Division I schools to test athletes for sickle-cell trait.

N.C. A&T didn't give Milandu a physical exam before allowing him to try out.

Chancellor Harold Martin said last month that the tryout supervised by the retiring track coach wasn’t approved and that none of the 29 students who participated had a physical on file.

In a statement Friday, Martin said he had closed the internal investigation into Milandu's death and "discontinued" the employment of athletic director Wheeler Brown.

"We deeply regret Andre's loss," Martin said. "Since my arrival at North Carolina A&T, I have consistently stressed the importance of adherence to university policies, practices and procedures with all university administrators. ... I commit to you that I will take constructive steps to move our athletics program in a different direction."

Family members said that Milandu ran track while a student at Knightdale High and dreamed of competing in the Olympics. Martin said his peers at N.C. AT&T knew him as "caring and kind-hearted young man."

Redding-Lallinger expressed sadness for his untimely death and said proper hydration and carefully monitored conditioning should be required for all athletes.

"People without the (sickle-cell) trait get heat-related illness and death, so why not protect everyone?" she said.

All newborns in North Carolina have been tested for sickle-cell trait since 1994. Milandu's mother said Friday that family didn't know he had the genetic abnormality.

Family members declined to comment on whether any legal action would be taken against N.C. A&T.