Thursday, March 6, 2003



Autopsy uncovers
heart condition

Freshman Mike Sheldt likely suffered
a heart attack while swimming
warm-up laps at the university

By Dave Reardon

A heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy contributed to the drowning death of 18-year-old University of Hawaii swimmer Mike Sheldt on Tuesday, according to the findings of an autopsy yesterday.

Mike Sheldt,
Freshman, UH

A Honolulu cardiologist said the condition can easily go unnoticed.

"It's an unusual situation where the heart muscle is much thicker than normal," Dr. Raymond Itagaki said. "It is totally hidden. You might have a heart murmur, you might not have any. It's got nothing to do with blocked arteries or valve problems. It's an over-muscled heart. I don't think anyone knows why it occurs."

Itagaki said the condition is not caused by physical training.

"That's different. When you have a trained, conditioned athlete, that enlargement is not due to thickening of the heart muscle," Itagaki said. "In that case, the size of the heart cavity increases."

Teammates, coaches, classmates, friends and family from Hawaii to North Carolina -- where Sheldt is from -- mourned the UH freshman yesterday. He was described by many as gifted, caring and fun-loving.

"This has been a very trying time for all of us involved," UH swim coach Mike Anderson said. "Mike was well-liked and came to Hawaii because he loved being with our team and because he loved Hawaii. He loved to surf and swim and he also loved his teammates. He was in top physical condition."

Sheldt apparently suffered a heart attack while swimming warm-up laps before practice Tuesday and drifted unconscious to the bottom of the 5-foot pool. After teammates pulled him out, trainers and UH physician Andy Nichols tried to revive him before paramedics arrived. The paramedics also worked on Sheldt and took him to Straub Hospital, where he died without regaining consciousness.

UH athletic director Herman Frazier said proper safety precautions were in effect at the pool, and everything possible was done in the attempts to save Sheldt.

UH swim coach Mike Anderson and athletic director Herman Frazier spoke to reporters yesterday at the university.

The UH swim teams practiced yesterday in preparation for tomorrow's Last Chance meet, where swimmers make their final bids for NCAA Championship qualifying times. Sheldt, an individual medley competitor, was to have been among them.

"This is what Mike would've wanted," Anderson said, his voice near breaking at times. "He would've wanted his teammates to go on without him. It's with a broken heart and a lot of sadness. We're all showing some cracks, but we're not broken and we're going to go on. We're going to dedicate the rest of this season to Mike and some things later on as well."

A moment of silence was observed at last night's volleyball match and another is planned for tonight's basketball game.

"This has been a very difficult time for the institution, specifically our student athletes on the swim team," Frazier said. "I told the team earlier today that ... there's really no manual on how to deal with this type of tragedy."

UH president Evan Dobelle said he got to know Sheldt, and will miss him.

"It is with sadness and regret that the entire University of Hawaii family mourns the tragic death of Mike Sheldt," Dobelle said in a written statement. "I knew Mike well and he was a promising young athlete and scholar -- his loss is personally devastating to me and I am struggling to make sense of a situation that has no explanation. I would like to extend my deepest condolences to his family, friends, fellow students and teammates."

Sheldt was more than an athlete. Those who knew him in Charlotte, N.C., said he was an excellent student and active in other extracurricular activities at Myers Park High School.

Kathryn Funderburk was president of the Myers Park choir, of which Sheldt was a member.

"Everyone who knew Mike Sheldt knew his smile. I have never seen him without a big goofy smile from ear to ear," Funderburk told the South Charlotte Weekly. "Whenever we were upset, or we were having a bad day, Mike was the one we turned to. He was the most positive person I have ever met. Mike connected with everyone regardless of who they were. He was so open and non-judgmental that people always take to him immediately. Mike was so excited to be going to Hawaii and when I saw pictures of him, I knew that he was in his element. He will always be remembered in our hearts and in our prayers."

Sheldt's parents, Mike and Shawnee, arrived in Honolulu from Charlotte yesterday, Frazier said. Sheldt is also survived by a sister, Mikaela. Services are pending.

UH Athletics

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