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Abnormality of arteries led to half-marathon runner's death

| Monday, May 6, 2013, 1:42 p.m.
Sean McKeag | Point Park News Service
Kyle Chase Johnson, 23, an employee of Deloitte & Touche and a graduate of Penn State University, collapsed and went into cardiac arrest on Sunday, May 5, 2013, during the Pittsburgh Half Marathon. He later died.

An abnormality in the arteries around a runner's heart caused him to collapse and die in Sunday's Pittsburgh half marathon, the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office said.

Kyle Chase Johnson, 23, a former football player for North Allegheny High School who recently ran a half marathon in New York, died of “an inherited abnormality of the coronary artery system,” which supplies blood and oxygen to the muscles of the heart.

Under certain stressful conditions, the condition can prevent parts of the heart from getting enough oxygen, resulting in an irregular heartbeat or cardiac arrest, said Dr. Karl Williams, the medical examiner.

Johnson, a Penn State graduate, Downtown resident and auditor for Deloitte & Touche, collapsed and went into cardiac arrest at 8:45 a.m. near mile marker 12 in Uptown, slightly more than a mile from the half-marathon finish line. Paramedics attempted to resuscitate him at the scene and en route to UPMC Mercy, where he was declared dead at 9:47 a.m.

The rare defect is “known to be associated with sudden, unexpected death,” Williams said, citing the 1988 death of NBA star and Aliquippa native Pete Maravich.

“Maravich played a full NBA career and then died in a pickup game years later,” Williams said. “It's all a matter of what stresses the heart is under.”

It's also rare for doctors to screen for such conditions before any symptoms occur, given the rarity of the abnormalities and the risk and expense of the tests. Detecting the slight abnormalities in the number and arrangement in arteries requires either expensive and detailed medical scans or an injection of special dye that shows where the arteries are, Williams said.

Johnson's friends and family said he hadn't shown signs of health problems before collapsing.

“He'd been as healthy as an ox” until Sunday, his roommate and former football teammate, Alex Calder, told the Tribune-Review.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.

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