Shawnee Mission West High School senior Andre Maloney died this afternoon after suffering a stroke during a football game Thursday night at SM South District Stadium.
Karla Montoya, Maloney’s cousin, said doctors informed the family earlier Friday that Maloney was unlikely to emerge from the vegetative state he entered after the stroke, and the family chose to stop further treatment.
Maloney, 17, was taken off the football field Thursday night in an ambulance after he became disoriented on the sideline during SM West’s 37-34 loss to Leavenworth.
The ambulance transported Maloney to the emergency room at Overland Park Regional Medical Center before he was transferred to Research Medical Center, where doctors discovered a blood clot in his brain. Maloney underwent a three-hour surgery, but doctors were unable to successfully remove the clot, Montoya said.
Hospital spokesperson Denise Charpentier said Maloney died Friday afternoon.
Although the vast majority of strokes typically affect elderly adults, they are far from unheard of in children.
“Strokes are more common in young people than you might think,” said Kansas City physician Coleman Martin, an interventional neurologist at St. Luke’s Hospital’s Neuroscience Institute.
Research Medical Center has a dedicated neurological intensive care unit at the Midwest Neuroscience Institute.
Montoya, a student at KU, attended Thursday’s game, during which she noticed “something wasn’t right” with Maloney on the sideline after he scored on a 63-yard touchdown reception. Maloney, who in July verbally committed to play football at KU, was untouched on the play — and even celebrated his touchdown in the end zone, teammates said — but stumbled when he returned to the bench.
As he reached for a water bottle, SM West football coach Tim Callaghan said, Maloney “got dizzy and lost functioning.”
Maloney grabbed a teammate for support as he staggered backward, but he ultimately collapsed, Montoya said.
“I rushed to the field, and Andre is laying there, drooling, with his head tilted to the right,” Montoya said. “He was conscious, but you could tell he wasn’t clear. He was mumbling. It didn’t make sense.”
Montoya, family members and a host of SM West football players jammed into a private waiting room in the intensive care unit of Research Medical Center on Friday. They took turns visiting Maloney in small groups.
“There’s a bond there that can’t be broken,” said Justin Fetzer, a longtime football and basketball teammate of Maloney’s. “He’s a brother to me. Seeing someone who’s usually so into everything suddenly out of it, it’s mind boggling.”
Teammate Isaiah Macklin said he and others spent the day at the hospital.
“It was really sad to see him like this,” Macklin said. “Everyone looks up to him. He’s really a great guy.”
In the hospital waiting room, they shared stories with one another.
“We’re just talking about how he was as a player in a person,” Montoya said. “I’m just in shock. There’s no reason why he should leave us. Of all people, he’s the last person this should happen to.”
At SM West Friday afternoon, about 200 students gathered on the football field for an after-school vigil. They sat on the field and stood in small circles, hugging and holding one another.
At the end of the vigil, student Lincoln Omollo summoned the throng of classmates, who then gathered in a large cluster and prayed.
After they finished their prayer, the students raised their hands and shouted “Viking pride!”
Omollo said students were shocked that Maloney’s condition had worsened.
“We miss him but he wanted us to be happy,” said Omollo, a senior who runs track. “He would want us to still keep going for him. We have to be strong for him.”
Omollo said Maloney was well-liked and respected among his peers.
“I looked up to him and tried to be like him up to the point that this was the year I was going to try to race him, just to see how I measured up to him,” he said. “But I won’t get that chance.”
Maloney enjoyed a breakout year as a junior last season, helping SM West win the program’s first Class 6A state football championship since 1985.
He was an honorable mention All-Metro performer in 2012, catching 24 passes for 518 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also made 42 tackles with four interceptions and 12 pass breakups as a safety and returned a kickoff for a touchdown.
About 800,000 strokes occur each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although the incidence of stroke is rising in the U.S., the death rate from strokes has been decreasing for decades because of better treatments.
Stroke nonetheless ranks as the fourth leading cause of death overall, taking about 133,000 lives each year.
While the vast majority of strokes hit adults age 65 and older, they sometimes occur in teen-agers and young adults.
Martin, the KC physician, explained that they are commonly the result of congenital heart abnormalities, in which children are born with a “hole,” or passage, in the heart that is supposed to close upon birth.
“In 80-plus percent of us, that hole seals up, but in some it stays open,” Martin said.
Strokes can be caused when blood clots pass through the hole and and travel directly to the brain.
Strokes also can be caused by aneurysms, weak spots in vessels that rupture and consequently leak blood into the brain tissue. Aneurysms frequently go undetected for years.
“A high school physical isn’t going to give you signs of these,” Martin said. “You’re not going to pick it up on a sports physical.”
The same often goes for the congenital heart problem, which generally requires a special echocardiogram to be detected, Martin said.
He said the first seven days after a stroke are most critical in stroke treatment. In general, the faster a stroke patient is brought to the hospital, the faster treatment can begin. In the last decade or more, effective clot-busting drugs have been developed that help reduce the damage caused blood clots that lodge in the brain. The drugs also help protect surrounding cells, preventing cell death, and preserving brain function.
In children, brain swelling following a stroke can cause danger. But if the swelling can be brought under control, prospects of recovery are much higher.
“If you can get the young person through the swelling period, they often make a better recovery than someone who has a stroke in their 60s or 70s,” Martin said.