On Tuesday night, Michael Bioncospino ’04 came home from Fall Break to discover his roommate in bed, no longer breathing. His roommate, Scott J. Paavola ’05 was a student in the College of Engineering, a member of the men’s swim team, a brother in Phi Kappa Psi and a friend to many.
Paavola had last been seen at 3 a.m. on Tuesday morning. Lt. Kathy Zoner of Cornell University Police said that Paavola had been dead for several hours before Biancospino discovered him. The police received the call for someone, “not breathing” shortly before 8 p.m.
The Ithaca Police Department identified the cause of death to be a, “medical condition associated with an enlarged heart.”
According to the Journal of the American Heart Association, an enlarged heart is the most common cause of sudden death among the young. It is estimated to affect one in 500 adults each year.
Heart enlargement is usually related to either significant heart disease, vigorous exercise or can have no known cause. The exact cause of Paavola’s enlarged heart is still in question.
Joe Lucia, coach of the men’s swim team, called the death, “totally unexpected” and said that he did not know if Paavola had any prior medical or heart problems.
This is not the first time a Cornell student has suffered from an enlarged heart condition.
According to Andy Noel, director of athletics, student Graham Morin ’04, who died two years ago, suffered from a similar but slightly different heart condition. Morin was a four time state champion wrestler for Cornell and a bright hope for the wrestling team.
Of both Morin and Paavola, Noel said these deaths were “particularly tragic because both of these young men were hardworking, popular and just great people. That’s often what hurts so badly.”
He describes Paavola as “part of the fabric of that team,” and a “dominant personality.” Teammates knew him as “Shaq,” and a person who got along with everyone and was always making others laugh.
Lucia, who has coached at Cornell for 15 years, called Paavola “one of the nicest, kindest guys on our team, along with being one of the toughest.” He cited Paavola’s outstanding performance on the team last year. “He was probably one of the best swimmers of any freshman I’ve coached in my time here.”
Paavola, from Gross Pointe Woods, Mich., was named swimmer of the year in his senior year in high school. During his time on the team at Cornell he made an equally impressive contribution.
“The team was important to him and he was important to the team,” said Paul Teta ’03, Paavola’s teammate and also a brother in the fraternity.
“The Cornell community mourns the loss of Scott Paavola. During his time with us, he touched many people on campus and made a real impact, especially through his swim team and his fraternity. In this sad time, we will come together to support one another and especially his family, friends and the many students who were touched by this tragedy,” said Susan H. Murphy ’73, vice president for student and academic services.
The fraternity house where Paavola lived is currently a place where people who knew him and even those who didn’t, can come together to remember him. Yesterday evening at 7:30 p.m. the brothers of Phi Kappa Psi held a sit-down dinner in his honor.
Fraternity brother Brett Davidson ’04 said the members of the house are in “pretty rough shape. It’s hard to walk around the house and run into people. it’s hard on campus, too.”
Teta said his initial feeling was one of disbelief.
“He’s only 19,” he said.
But as to how everyone is coping with their friend’s death, he said, “these things are a part of life and everybody realizes that.”
Any students in need of support can go to Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at Gannett: Cornell University Health Services, or call (607) 255-5208 during the day and (607) 255-5155 during evenings and weekends. If students mention that they are calling in response to the death, counselors may be able to help them more quickly.
Cornell United Religious Work is currently planning a memorial service for Paavola. Any students or faculty members who would like to participate in planning the service should contact Reverend Janet Shortall in Anabel Taylor Hall.
Archived article by Stacey Delikat