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Kile's Death Could Lead to Heart Scans

July 17, 2002|LANCE PUGMIRE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It would happen occasionally on trips, when he was alone in a hotel bed, still wired from the night's game and distracted with thoughts of his family thousands of miles away.

Scott Spiezio's heart would race a bit, and he would wonder ever so briefly, "What's that twitch?"

Before, the Angel first baseman would quickly dismiss any worry. He is a healthy, strong, professional athlete.

Then came June 22, when St. Louis Cardinal pitcher Darryl Kile, 33 years old and in the prime of his career, was found dead in a Chicago hotel room. A final autopsy report released Tuesday revealed Kile's coronary arteries were 90% blocked, and that coronary atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) caused his death.

Spiezio has suddenly reassessed those little twitches in his chest.

"What I've learned," he said, "is that it might be something I'd never expect."

The annual physical examinations major league players typically have during spring training do not routinely include the types of tests that might have indicated Kile was in danger.

Some players are hopeful that will change and say teams should make heart scans routine.

"I would think a lot of guys would be receptive to that," Dodger catcher Paul Lo Duca said. "When you're at this level, it's easy to think you're invincible.

"If a guy is shown to have high blood pressure or cholesterol or to have a family history, why wouldn't you want to take [the scan] to follow up on it? ... It'd be a relief."

Language in Major League Baseball's collective bargaining agreement allows for heart scans to be used during physicals, but there is no immediate plan to make such tests mandatory.

"It's so soon [after Kile's death] that the idea of instituting a policy just can't be answered right now," said Vince Wladika, Major League Baseball's public relations business director. "There is a tendency when something like this happens to have a knee-jerk overreaction. We don't want to not react to this, but the way things like this usually get addressed are after we sit down and have a discussion about it with the union."

The current collective bargaining agreement includes a passage that reads: "The player, when requested by the club, must submit to a complete physical examination at the expense of the club and, if necessary, to treatment by a regular physician or dentist in good standing."

What is considered "complete" is open to interpretation, but no existing rule forbids treatment such as a heart scan.

St. Louis Cardinal trainer Barry Weinberg cited doctor-patient confidentiality when asked about what Cardinal doctors knew of Kile's heart condition and his family history of heart problems. Kile's father, David, died at age 44 after a heart attack in 1993. Jay Alves, a spokesman for the Colorado Rockies, refused to comment on any medical treatment Kile received during the 1998-99 seasons with that team.

"Our club obviously wants our players in the best shape possible and we want to check out whatever is a concern to them or an issue in their family's history," Alves said.

Said Rob Manfred, Major League Baseball's executive vice president for labor relations and human resources: "The contents of the team physical are at the discretion of team doctors; they have the right to control the players' care. Our view is that if the doctor believes [a heart scan] is an appropriate part of the physical, they are obligated to use it. I would not expect any kind of fight on this from the players. After all, who would want to be responsible for a guy not taking the test if something happened to him afterward?"

One players' agent who didn't want to be identified said some players might be reluctant to have a heart scan because it is "something new and out of the ordinary."

But seven players interviewed during June's Angels-Dodgers series at Edison Field said they would welcome a heart scan.

"I think it's reasonable to say that Darryl Kile is proof that if more measures were taken, maybe it would have saved his life," Dodger center fielder Dave Roberts said.

Said Angel shortstop David Eckstein: "There might be a fine line for things we shouldn't agree to, but I don't know where that line's at, and I don't think it's this. Shoot, this could save your life and [the owners and MLB] are just making sure we're OK."

Barry Axelrod, Kile's agent, said team-prescribed heart scans would be beneficial.

"But I don't know if you need to legislate that," Axelrod said. "If a player checks 'Yes' to other health conditions in his family history, do you mandate additional testing for all those, too? That might be overkill."

There are two widely used heart scans. The Electron Beam Computed Tomography (EBCT) scan is designed to reveal calcium buildups in arteries. An EBCT is commonly used in full-body scans that can detect such problems as brain tumors, lung cancer and kidney stones. The procedure usually lasts about 15 minutes.

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