November 28, 2000

Morin's Death Attributed To Prior Heart Condition

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As members of the Cornell community continued to cope with the loss of Graham B. Morin ’04, who passed away during a Saturday afternoon wrestling practice, more details emerged yesterday regarding the medical cause of his death.

An autopsy revealed that Morin suffered from Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM), according to Sharon Dittman, associate director of community relations with Gannett Medical Center. HCM is characterized by a thickening of the walls of the heart, which results in an obstruction to blood flow through the left ventricle outflow tract. The result can be fainting spells, shortness of breath and heart arrhythmia.

“Unfortunately, most people with HCM are asymptomatic,” Dittman said. “For many, the first sign may be cardiac arrest and sudden death.”

“There are only 10 to 25 deaths due to cardiac causes in athletes every year, and HCM is only a small fraction of that, so that gives you a sense of how rare this condition really is,” Dittman added.

It is estimated that one out of every 1,000 Americans has HCM, but most do not know of their condition without an echocardiograph (ECG). For a young, top-caliber athlete like Morin, diagnosis would have been difficult given his physical fitness level. The three-time Washington state wrestling champion and football star never displayed signs of the condition during his athletic career, according to those who were close to Morin at Cornell.

“There was absolutely no sign of prior heart trouble with Graham,” head wrestling coach Rob Koll said. “If we had known, there would have been no way he would have been allowed to compete.”

The NCAA does not currently screen its athletes for HCM.

The University will hold a memorial service at noon in Sage Chapel tomorrow. Morin’s family is expected to arrive in Ithaca this morning, according to the Rev. Robert L. Johnson, director of Cornell United Religious Work, who spoke with the wrestler’s father, Daniel Morin, on the telephone Sunday.

“The family really doesn’t know what to do,” Johnson said. “They’ve never experienced anything like this before. His parents and his two sisters [who are 16 and 14 years old] are in deep shock.”

Koll spoke yesterday for the members of the wrestling team as they began their healing process.

“Everyone’s dealing with this in his own way,” he said. “Some have still not recovered from the initial shock. But we want to honor him through hard work this season. Graham lost his life doing what he loved, and that was wrestling.”

For all members of the Cornell community affected by Morin’s death, representatives from Counseling and Psychological Services, Cornell United Religious Work and Campus Life will be available tonight for consultation at 8 p.m. in the 2nd floor lounge of Class of 1926 Hall.

Students on campus who need more urgent psychological and emotional care should seek out their resident advisors and resident hall directors, who can make referrals for support, said Catherine Holmes M.A. ’85, associate dean of students. Students who live off campus should contact Holmes in the Office of the Dean of Students at 255-4311.

Archived article by Tom McNulty