- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
The trouble, however, was just beginning for Boni, who for the last 22 months has suffered a daily and nearly ceaseless personal hell. Italian newspapers—both general circulation and the three national sports dailies—spared no metaphors in sensationalizing the story. "They made it sound like Jimmy was deliberately going out there to kill someone," says Pasin. "They crucified him."
In Turin, La Stampa, the city's largest paper, ran a front-page story with the headline TO KILL FOR SPORT. In another article Boni was described as a barbarian from Canada who had deliberately waited until Schrott raised his arms, then took deadly aim at his foe's heart, rupturing it with a vicious slash.
In fact, when the results of the autopsy were made public, it was learned that the blow to Schrott had ruptured no major blood vessels servicing his heart and that no ribs had been broken. Schrott's heart had apparently been sound, although the autopsy did show that his aorta—the major blood vessel leading to the heart—was somewhat narrower than normal. Was his epilepsy to blame? Had there been a previous condition that somehow contributed to his death? "I heard all those rumors," says Pasin. "All I can tell you is he was built like a bull. I thought he was the strongest kid on the team."
Peter Schwartz, a cardiologist in Milan, dismisses epilepsy as a possible cause of Schrott's death. "His epilepsy was no factor," says Schwartz, who is prepared to testify in Boni's defense. "There would have been convulsions and a very different scene." He also does not believe that the narrowing in Schrott's aorta contributed to his death, although Boni's lawyers intend to argue that it did. "His aorta was somewhat smaller than normal, but not to any degree that would have been life threatening."
Why, then, did Schrott's heart stop beating after this particular blow, which in every aspect except its lethal result was unremarkable? "A combination of factors," Schwartz says. "To be lethal the blow must be intense and on the heart itself. And the timing of the blow is crucial."
According to Schwartz there is a critical vulnerable period during each heartbeat, about 30 milliseconds in duration, in which a sharp blow to the heart can create an electrical impulse. This impulse is capable of interrupting the normal beating of the heart, stunning it much as an electric shock might do. "It's well known in the medical community," says Schwartz, "that any electrical activation of the heart in that vulnerable period has a high probability of causing a little arrhythmia."
That arrhythmia in some cases initiates cardiac arrest. There is actually a medical term for the condition, commotio cordis, and researchers are just beginning to recognize the dangers to adolescents of blows to the area around the heart when they are playing certain sports. Indeed, Schrott is not the first young athlete to have died as a result of such a blow. In the last four years at least two hockey players in the U.S., both 15, have died from cardiac arrest, one in Wisconsin and the other in New Hampshire, after being struck over the heart with a puck. In both cases the boys were wearing shoulder pads with chest padding that covered the heart, they were in good physical health, and they suffered no rupturing or other significant injury to the heart as a result of the blow. Their hearts simply stopped beating after the impact. At least one lacrosse player is known to have died in similar circumstances, and there have also been tragic instances of youngsters being struck in the chest by baseballs, both batted and thrown, and suffering lethal cardiac arrest. Commotio cordis has generated enough concern that in some parts of the country Little Leaguers are now required to wear chest protectors when they bat.
"A young person's sternum is more likely to bend on impact than an adult's is," says Dr. Alan Ashare, who is director-at-large of USA Hockey's Safety and Protective Equipment Committee. "What seems to happen in these cases is the chest wall hits the heart and causes a focus for abnormal arrhythmia."
"It's a relatively new observation," says Dr. Charles Haffajee, director of cardiac electrophysiology at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Boston. "None of us knows whether commotio cordis can happen to you or me or only to those who are somehow predisposed to arrhythmia. We don't know if the fact that an adolescent's skeleton is less formed is a contributing factor. We do know it has to be a very high-pressure blow of incredible speed in the critical area, which is almost directly over the left nipple."
Was Schrott's death another case of commotio cordis? No one can say for sure. Certainly the speed with which Boni swung his stick should not be construed as "incredible." For that matter, Little Leaguers and 15-year-old hockey players do not pitch balls or shoot pucks at "incredible speed." Schrott's death in light of these other cases can be interpreted not as a freak of chance, but as at least the third instance in the last four years in which the inadequacy of chest protection in ice hockey has been tragically exposed. Says Ashare, "Should everyone wear a certified chest protector? We've discussed it, but you have to take into consideration the cost and the incidence of this injury. There are more than 300,000 registered hockey players in the U.S. How much of a danger is this?"