Originally created 11/26/05

Student died of enlarged heart



An enlarged heart, not August heat, probably killed a Lakeside High School student who collapsed after a physical education exercise, authorities said today.

Columbia County Deputy Coroner Vernon Collins said a final report on the death of Chelsea Collins determined her death Aug. 22 was caused by the heart condition, which he said "was a gradual effect" that can either be genetics- or viral-based.

"Her heart got to a point to where it just couldn't take anymore," said Mr. Collins, who is not related to the victim.

At the time of Chelsea's death, officials said, the heat index in the area of Lakeside High was about 102 degrees. Chelsea died after falling ill while walking around a track during a physical education class.

After her death, the Columbia County school board formed a committee of parents, educators and business people to re-evaluate the school calendar. County school officials decided to poll parents about changing the early August start date. That polling has not yet occurred.

Mr. Collins said heat "didn't help" in Chelsea's death, but "I don't think it caused it."

Mr. Collins did say her death could have occurred in another location.

"She could have been at the mall or she could have been at home walking outside to get the mail," he said. "Unfortunately, we'll never know if that (heat) was a contributing factor. I feel like the heart just reached a point where it just couldn't act the way it was supposed to and it went into an arrhythmia and it was fatal."

Initially believing Chelsea's death was related to the heat, many parents urged school officials to re-examine the early August start of classes in Columbia County.

However, Karen O'Gorman, a mother of two children in Columbia County and a member of the calendar committee, said the calendar issue and Chelsea's death are unrelated.

"The parents I talked to, this was an issue long before her death," Mrs. O'Gorman said. "The autopsy results don't impact it, because it never was a factor to begin with."

School board Chairwoman Regina Buccafusco also said she believes the two are unrelated.

"I think the calendar issue is more about what parents want and not the weather," she said.

At their most recent meeting, school board members heard the results of the committee.

The board plans to offer parents three different calendars to vote on early next year.

Reach Preston Sparks and Donnie Fetter at 868-1222 or ccchron@augustachronicle.com.