Sickle cell trait cited in autopsy of player

OXFORD – Ole Miss football player Bennie Abram died Feb. 19 due to complications from sickle cell trait with exertion and a contributing factor of Cardiomegaly, according to the autopsy report, Dr. Jeffrey Dennis said Monday.

Abram – a 5-foot-9, 186-pound walk-on safety – collapsed at the Indoor Practice Facility approximately 15 minutes into a morning workout on Feb. 19 and was taken to Baptist Memorial Hospital in Oxford where his condition briefly improved before he died at 12:11 p.m.

The autopsy results were completed Friday, nearly three months after Abram’s death.

“For us, Bennie’s case was not a straight-forward presentation for sickle cell trait in a sudden death event,” Dennis said. “We knew he had tested positive, and we treated him accordingly in the hospital and on the field.”

Sickle cell trait occurs in approximately eight percent of the African-American population, and Ole Miss has tested its athletes for sickle cell since 1989, said Shannon Singletary, Senior Associate Athletics Director of Sports Medicine and Strength and Conditioning.

“It has been shown that sickle cell trait does increase the risk of sudden death events, but in most circumstances, athletes do really well with sickle cell trait,” Dennis said. “We’re watching it closely, but it wouldn’t disqualify a player from participating.”

Abram had a history of asthma and received medication from the pharmacy for upper respiratory tract symptoms the night before he collapsed. Abram didn’t report the medication to the team, and Dennis said those things could have played a role, as well.

Abram played at Itawamba Community College in 2009. He enrolled at Ole Miss in January and had been training with teammates for four weeks.

“We hope this tragedy is something we can work forward with continuing education and hopefully have more answers to be found in the future with sickle cell in sudden death events,” Dennis said.

The Ole Miss football team plans to honor Abram by putting his initials on its helmets this fall. The Rebels are dedicating the 2010 season to Abram’s memory.

Chase Parham/Special to the Journal