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Baseball player dies of heart condition

Originally published October 22, 2010

Junior baseball player Phil Kaiser died of an undiagnosed heart condition early Monday morning.

Kaiser, a communication major with a focus on advertising, had attended church with his girlfriend, junior Noelle Dehler, and then returned to her apartment. While watching a DVD, she noticed he appeared to be sweating, gagging and bloated. After phoning for emergency help at 2:07 a.m., Kaiser was pronounced dead at Methodist Medical Center at 2:51.

The loss of Kaiser has affected not only the baseball team, but the entire athletic department and the school as a whole.

“Overall, I think we’re doing pretty well,” said Bobby Parker, associate athletic director of communication. “It’s obviously a difficult time. It’s harder to imagine a more difficult situation than a student athlete passing. Phil had such a warm and gravitating personality.”

“Anytime you lose a teammate, it’s tough, but this scenario is particularly hard for all of us,” said Elvis Dominguez, head baseball coach. “Our team is dealing with it with a little more difficulty.”

Dominguez said Kaiser had a real presence with the team and managed to develop a connection with every other player.

“Did you know that he had a handshake for every guy on the team?” Dominguez said. “Your handshake was different than my handshake. Phil was just that kind of guy.”

For the baseball team, the focus remains on making sure that the team will be able to move past the loss, but not forget the loss of a teammate.

“We’re trying to make sure the guys are well,” Dominguez said. “The only thing I asked is not to make this a one day or two day thing. Phil had such a great impact on everyone and every thing he touched, both athletes and students alike.”

Johnna Ingersoll, Peoria County coroner, said Kaiser’s death has been attributed to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a genetic heart disorder that often goes unnoticed.

Although toxicology reports have not been returned, it appears unlikely his death was a result of drugs or alcohol.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, also known as HCM,  results in a thickening of the heart and arteries. It kills 70 athletes a year and is the leading cause of sudden death in teens and young adults.

“People who have HCM didn’t do anything wrong,” said Lisa Salberg, founder and CEO of Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Association. “The disease might not show up when you are a baby, it might not show up when you are a teenager, it might not show up when you are 50 years-old. There are about 500 gene mutations that can cause HCM, and there are people that have the gene that don’t even know about it. If you have the gene, it doesn’t mean that something bad is going to happen. It just means that something bad could happen.”

Salberg recommends all college students, particularly athletes, need to check their family history and should have a cardiac evaluation with a doctor if they have any concerns.

“My personal belief is that we have to look at the population in segments. When you look at colleges, there’s a different level of what can and cannot be done there. Evaluations for athletes would be very cost effective, and I’m not talking about dollars and cents. I’m talking about what can be caught and what can be done about it before there are more problems.”

The wake and visitation for Phil Kaiser will be today from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Woodlawn Funeral Home and Memorial Park at 7750 W. Cermak Road in Forest Park.

The funeral will be held on Saturday at St. Odilo Catholic Church at 2244 East Avenue in Berwyn.
An on-campus ceremony will occur, but a date and time has not been set.

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