As hot summer training camps open for fall sports, I felt that it was the perfect time to roll out our 4-part educational interview series in collaboration with the Korey Stringer Institute (KSI) at the University of Connecticut on exertional heat stroke and preventing sudden death in sports. In August 2001, Korey Stringer, a Pro-Bowl offensive lineman for the Minnesota Vikings, passed away from exertional heat stroke. Since the time of Korey’s death, his wife, Kelci, worked tirelessly to develop an exertional heat stroke prevention institute to honor her husband’s legacy. To that end, she joined forces with exertional heat stroke expert Dr. Douglas Casa at the University of Connecticut to make this dream a reality and the institute came to fruition in April 2010.
KSI's mission is to provide research, education, advocacy and consultation to maximize performance, optimize safety and prevent sudden death for the athlete, soldier and laborer, which is directly aligned with the mission of this podcast. KSI serves the needs of active individuals and athletes at all levels – youth, high school, college, professional, people who are physically active, recreational athletes – and those who supervise and care for these individuals. Components of these services include: consultations, advocacy, education, research, athlete testing, and mass-market outreach.
In episode 38 (part 1/4) of the Heads ‘ N Tales podcast we start off by talking with KSI’s CEO, Dr. Douglas Casa, whose passion for the study of exertional heat stroke started in 1985 when he suffered an exertional heat stroke while running a 10K race. Since 1999, Dr. Casa has worked toward his goal of preventing sudden death in sport at the University of Connecticut, Department of Kinesiology. During this time he has published more than 150 peer-reviewed publications and presented more than 350 times on subjects related to exertional heat stroke, heat-related illnesses, preventing sudden death in sport, and hydration. Dr. Casa has successfully treated more than 167 (and counting) cases of exertional heat stroke.
Dr. Casa is the 2008 recipient of the medal for distinguished athletic training research from the National Athletic Trainers’ Association. He was named a fellow of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association in 2008. He received the Sayers “Bud” Miller Distinguished Educator Award from the National Athletic Trainers’ Association in 2007 and has been a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine since 2001. He has been a lead or co-author on numerous sports medicine (ACSM, NATA) position statements related to heat illness and hydration.
Dr. Casa has worked with numerous media outlets across the country in discussing his research including the NBC Today Show, ESPN, CNN, Sports Illustrated, USA Today, Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. Dr. Casa earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from Allegheny College, in 1990; his master’s degree in athletic training from the University of Florida in 1993; and his doctorate in exercise physiology from the University of Connecticut in 1997.
In this episode, Dr. Casa provides us with some background on the Korey Stringer Institute, shares his tale of exertional heat stroke, teaches about the signs, symptoms and appropriate treatment of exertional heat stroke. Lastly he shares the story of former Towson Football Player, Gavin Class who nearly lost his life to exertional heat stroke and worked with the KSI Staff to get back on the field. We also hear from Gavin in a separate interview to learn about the obstacles he faced in his recovery and what his transition to life after sports was like. This part of episode 38 can be found at 00:54:11.
Gavin was a 6'4'', 305 lb offensive lineman at Towson University who was benching 440 lbs and squatting 525 lbs before suffering heat stroke during training camp in August of 2013. This goes to show that even when you are in the best shape of your life, you are not invincible. Gavin had to have 12 subsequent surgeries, including a liver transplant, to save his life and at one point he even flatlined. After getting out of the hospital, Gavin worked with Dr. Casa and the staff at the Korey Stringer institute in an attempt to get back on the field. However, he was never able to get clearance to play by the Townson University Doctor, despite passing all of the rigorous heat acclimatization testing performed by KSI. His story was featured on ESPN's Outside the Lines (Below) and Dr. Casa is also featured in this segment. Gavin also discusses his transition to life after sports and how he found comfort in understanding God's plan for him. Lastly, Gavin gives me one of my favorite definitions of perseverance to date, so give it a listen!