Heat Stroke Death Raises Concerns for Community

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Naples Daily News (Florida)


At some unknown interval after Riverdale High School football player Zachary Martin-Polsenberg collapsed at the end of an offseason practice on June 29 due to heat stroke, his head coach called 911.

Martin-Polsenberg, a junior offensive lineman who never regained consciousness after collapsing and eventually was pronounced dead at a Miami hospital on July 10, was prone behind the team's huddle at the end of the practice, being doused with water by coaches and had vomited.

"He just was sprinting with the team and started looking like he was feeling exhausted at the end of it," Riverdale head coach James Delgado said calmly at the start of the eight-minute, 12-second recording of his call to 911.

"We tried to rehydrate him, and he just vomited. Rather than take the chance, we want to make sure he gets an IV and gets rehydrated. But he's doing fine. He is responsive. But he's not himself."

The Lee County Sheriff's Office ruled Martin-Polsenberg's death an accident. But its report, released Wednesday, and evidence from the case, released Friday, raise concerns about how the 16-year-old's case was handled - both before and after his collapse.

The sheriff's office summary of interviews with coaches and the bulk of the roughly 50 players in attendance that day states that the practice had multiple water stations and that adequate water breaks were allowed.

But one teammate told detectives that some team members asked for and were denied water during the workout, held indoors and outdoors from 7 a.m. until after 10 a.m.

The summary from coaches and players said that Martin-Polsenberg first laid down at the back of the team huddle at the end of practice, then appeared to be having a medical event, at which point the coaches responded.

But the other teammate, Dawson Graves, said that coaches responded to Martin-Polsenberg "after the huddle was concluded." They did so by pouring cold water on him, the report states.

Martin-Polsenberg's mother, Laurie Martin-Giordano, told police she arrived at Riverdale at 10:17 a.m. or 10:18 a.m. and saw the team walking toward the huddle, at which point they disappeared from view.

About 10 or 15 minutes later, she told investigators, a player came to her car and told her that her son was down on the field. She went immediately to the field, where she said that Delgado asked her if she wanted them to call 911.

Documents from the Fort Myers Shores Fire District and Lee County EMS show that both received calls to be dispatched to the scene at 10:47 a.m.

The sheriff's report stated that Martin-Giordano said her son was in a seated position when she arrived. But video she took of the scene and showed detectives showed her son being propped up by other players and incoherent, the report stated.

Coaches were trying to give water to Martin-Polsenberg, who had already vomited, and pour it on him.

Martin-Polsenberg, who was about 6-foot-5 and 320 pounds, was widely known for drinking from a gallon jug of water he carried with him at all times to remain hydrated, his mother and players stated.

The Korey Stringer Institute, located at the University Connecticut and named for the former NFL offensive lineman who died from exertional heat stroke in 2001, is among numerous medical agencies that recommends cold water immersion - in an ice bath - as quickly as possible in severe heat illness cases.

Ice packs placed in the armpits and groin and on the torso, head and neck also are widely recommended.

Delgado received medical certifications through the American Red Cross for adult first aid, CPR and automated external defibrillators. But his personnel file indicates no heat-illness training, which is not required at the high school level in Florida.

The Lee County School District, which prohibited interviews with coaches and players regarding the events of that day while the police investigation was ongoing, said that no changes were made after the incident in staffing or protocols for heat-related concerns.

Questions regarding Martin-Polsenberg's treatment do not end at the school.

The sheriff's summary states that the Fort Myers Shores Fire District, which arrived at 10:52 a.m., just five minutes after being contacted, found Martin-Polsenberg to have a body temperature of 101 degrees, which is considered only the entry point for heat exhaustion and not reaching the more severe heat stroke.

But the fire district's incident report shows two sets of pulse, temperature and oxygen readings for Martin-Polsenberg. The other temperature reading is 105 degrees, past the point of entry into heat stroke. Neither set of readings has a time stamp.

In their recorded statements to the sheriff's office, Austin Gee and David Mimbs from the fire district speak only of Martin-Polsenberg's "first initial temperature" of 101 degrees. They were not asked nor did they provide information on the 105-degree reading.

Lee County EMS, which arrived at Riverdale at 10:55 a.m. and reached Martin-Polsenberg at 10:57 a.m., also shows two temperature readings in its incident report.

The first reading was 105.4 degrees at 11:08 a.m., then 101.3 degrees at 11:43 a.m.

The latter reading indicates Martin-Polsenberg's core temperature dropped more than four degrees while in EMS care.

Martin-Polsenberg's family has previously said publicly that doctors at Golisano Children's Hospital estimated Martin-Polsenberg's temperature had been at 107 degrees for at least an hour before it could be brought down.

The EMS report also states that the 6-foot-5 16-year-old was taken from Riverdale to Golisano - bypassing closer medical locations at Lehigh Regional Medical Center, Lee Memorial Hospital and Gulf Coast Medical Center - as the "closest pediatric facility."

Records show EMS departed Riverdale at 11:12 a.m. and arrived at Golisano at Healthpark at 11:41 a.m. - more than an hour after Martin-Polsenberg first collapsed, based on composite timelines and testimony.

Ty Roland, an attorney for the family, said it is still pursuing answers.

"At this point Laurie's focus is on getting answers on what happened to her child and preventing any parent from having to go through this," said Roland, declining to say whether the case is headed for a lawsuit. "The facts will dictate where this goes."

In August, Martin-Polsenberg's family launched the Zach Martin Memorial Foundation to raise awareness about heat-related illnesses, prevention and treatment.

From 1995 to 2015, 61 football players died from heat stroke (46 high school, 11 college, two professional, and two organized youth), according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research. Ninety percent of recorded heat stroke deaths occurred during practice.

The foundation's website shares information from medical providers that "heat stroke is 100 percent survivable if correctly identified and treated within the first 15 minutes."

"The foundation's main goal is to make this a national discussion," Martin-Giordano said in late August. "It needs to be on par with sudden cardiac arrest and concussions. Because we have something here that is completely preventable and 100 percent survivable, and we still have people dying. It shouldn't be."

Follow @NewsPressSeth on Twitter.

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October 7, 2017


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