A high school football player in Pennsylvania died Wednesday from a benign heart tumor— a condition that rarely causes death, reported the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Noah Cornuet, 16, collapsed during practice for the Burrell High School football team. He was pronounced dead about an hour later after being taken to Allegheny Valley Hospital in Pittsburgh.
Cornuet’s autopsy revealed that he had a benign heart tumor called an atrial myxoma.
“It’s a very unfortunate case and a very rare cause of sudden death — it’s not commonly seen in that context,” Srinivas Murali, director of Allegheny General Hospital’s Division of Cardiovascular Medicine told the Post-Gazette. “The problem with these myxomas is that they can start and slowly grow over time and you might not even know you have one. It’s very possible he had no symptoms.”
Symptoms include fainting, shortness of breath, chest pain and palpitations. Doctors can easily diagnose the condition using an echocardiogram and the success rate for tumor removal— by way of open heart surgery— is very high. Atrial myxomas are more common in men than women.
There have only been 20 reports of sudden death from atrial myxoma.
Cornuet’s case is also unusual because the focus of football practice safety has been heatstroke and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease that causes thickening of the heart muscle. While his death was not heat-related, it may have been prompted by athletic exertion.
“Physical exertion obviously results in the heart pumping more blood,” Murali said. “With the heart pumping more vigorously, the movement would be more vigorous. From that perspective, it’s possible that the exertion was contributory in some way.”
According to Murali, if Cornuet had exhibited common symptoms of the tumor, testing would likely have picked it up, but the condition would not have been noticed on a routine physical.