Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Examiner: Marathon runner had disease

The Arkansas medical examiner’s office announced Tuesday the
cause of death for a University of Wisconsin graduate student who died shortly
after completing a marathon last month.

Dr. Stephen Erickson, associate medical examiner for the
state of Arkansas, said Adam Nickel, 27, had a congenital heart defect that had
gone unnoticed his whole life.

Nickel collapsed suddenly March 2 after finishing the Little
Rock Marathon between 11 a.m. and 12 p.m., according to race director Gina
Marchese Pharis. He was taken to a nearby hospital and declared dead on


According to Erickson, Nickel had fibromuscular dysplasia.
The very small coronary arteries that carried oxygenated blood to Nickel’s
heart were very narrow. This meant not enough blood was getting to his heart
while he was running the marathon.

Erickson added Nickel was probably unaware there was
anything wrong with his heart until the cardiac episode hit him “like a
lightning bolt out of the blue.”

“In all likelihood, Mr. Nickel never had a symptom of
this until his death,” Erickson said. “It was the combination of the
standard stress on the body and electrolyte fluctuations that occur while
running a marathon and an undiagnosed, silent, strange little disease that
caused a sudden, catastrophic cardiac event that caused his death.”

Except for the undiagnosed heart condition, Nickel was in
perfect shape to handle the long distance of a marathon, Erickson added.

“There is no doubt in my mind that he was
physiologically capable of running marathons,” Erickson said. “There
was nothing grossly wrong with his organ systems.”

David Bernhardt, UW professor of sports medicine, said most
incidents of young athletes dying during athletic events are the result of the
athletes having an unknown congenital heart defect they were born with.

Erickson said Nickel had almost no chance of being
diagnosed, as he had no symptoms.

“I don’t know how they would diagnose this. It’s
something so small,” Erickson said. “If you’re lucky, you can be a
young person with symptomology, and a skilled doctor will know how to recognize

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