Kansas college football player died of heatstroke after first practice, autopsy says

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A message from Dr. Robin Ikeda, Acting Director of CDC's National Center for Environmental Health, on how you can prevent heat-related illnesses and deaths by staying cool, hydrated and informed.

A Kansas college football player who was vomiting before he became unconscious after the team’s first practice of the year died from heatstroke, doctors say in an autopsy report.

Braeden Bradforth, 19, had moved from New Jersey to Kansas on July 30 to attend Garden City Community College and play football for the Broncbusters. But two days later, after the team’s first practice, he was on his way to the hospital in the western Kansas town.

He was pronounced dead about an hour and a half after practice ended, his autopsy says.

The former coach, Jeff Sims, previously told The Eagle the emergency room doctor didn’t think Bradforth’s death was caused by an athletic issue. Instead, the doctor thought a blood clot may have traveled to his heart and caused a heart attack.

But an autopsy report filed in Finney County District Court last week shows that doctors ruled out the blood clot theory when they found no evidence of pulmonary thromboembolism.

Instead, the coroner determined the cause of death to be exertional heat stroke.

The report cites “the facts surrounding the case — decedent’s first intense workout of the year; ambient temperature in the 80s F with humidity; stomach containing food and vomiting,” as well as other medical conditions, including abnormally rapid breathing and heart rate and a history of asthma, in reaching the conclusion.

Bradforth was a defensive lineman out of Neptune High School in Neptune, N.J., according to his Hudl profile.

His mother, Joanne Atkins Ingram, told NJ Advance Media that she plans to sue Garden City Community College.

“I hold the whole school liable,” she told the news outlet. “It’s bittersweet. I’m glad to know the truth, but it doesn’t bring him back.”

The football practice consisted only of players going through conditioning drills, the Garden City Telegram previously reported.

The practice ended at around 9:30 p.m., but Bradforth did not attend the team meeting afterward, his autopsy says. About 20 minutes later, an athletic trainer found him unconscious outside his dorm room. A bystander said he had been vomiting and appeared to be choking. He was taken to St. Catherine Hospital at 10:36 p.m. and was pronounced dead at 11:06 p.m. following extensive recuscitative efforts.

“He had a great day and great attitude and was focused on things he needed to be successful in school and football,” Sims previously told The Eagle.

“Braeden was excited and a guy with a bounce in his steps.”

Dr. Randy Eichner said the autopsy raises questions about the Broncbuster football program. Eichner is a professor emeritus at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and a former team internist for Sooner football.

“It raises serious questions about GCCC football, maybe even raises the question of reckless endangerment, led by head coach Jeff Sims,” Eichner told The Eagle.

Sims is leaving the school to be the head coach at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin after Garden City lost in the Nov. 29 national championship game to East Mississippi by one point.

Sims was named NJCAA National Coach of the Year in 2016 after the Broncbusters won the National Junior College Athletic Association national championship that year.

“While GCCC is aware of the findings of the autopsy, the college does not have a response, as conclusions as to cause(s) of death and contributing factors are best left to medical experts,” spokeswoman Ashley Salazar said. “The college does not have a comment about the family’s intent to take legal action, other than that Braeden’s family must do whatever they believe is in their best interest to pursue.”

The college said in a statement that it grieves with Bradforth’s family and “recognizes the importance of the autopsy’s findings.” School administrators are conducting an internal review of the circumstances of his death.

The school announced Wednesday that Tom Minnick would be the next head football coach. He previously coached at Arizona Western.

A GoFundMe page started after Bradforth’s death asked for financial assistance to return his body to New Jersey for a funeral. It said that he dreamed of one day playing in the NFL.

“Not only was he a talented athlete, he was one of the most jovial, loving and humble individuals to cross one’s path,” the GoFundMe said. “His ambition and determination to defy the odds pushed him to develop the skills and knowledge needed to obtain a football scholarship.”

Bradforth is the second Garden City Community College football player to have died in the past two years.

Sean Callahan, 19, a sophomore offensive lineman out of Gardner Edgerton, died at a home in Kismet in May 2017 of what the Seward County Sheriff’s Office called natural causes. He was on the 2016 national championship team and had received his associate’s degree two days before his death, the Kansas City Star reported at the time.

“It’s a shame that this happened to such young men, and they were both really good dudes,” Sims previously told The Eagle. “It’s heartbreaking.”

An autopsy report on Callahan’s death was not available Wednesday from the Seward County District Court.

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Jason Tidd is a reporter at The Wichita Eagle covering breaking news, crime and courts.