Missouri football player died of meningitis

Tuesday, August 23, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:42 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Valerie Rao, the Boone County medical examiner, announced Tuesday that Aaron O’Neal’s July 12 death was caused by lymphocytic meningitis. O’Neal, a redshirt-freshman linebacker from Creve Coeur, died following a pre-season conditioning workout at the University.


Also Tuesday Lonnie O’Neal, the father of Aaron O’Neal, filed a wrongful death suit.


“You all know that we are all here to discuss the cause of death of the football player Aaron O’Neal,” Rao said. “I think that some of you know already that he died of lymphocytic meningitis. It is not infectious. Manner of death is natural.”


The final autopsy report was finished Friday and the O’Neal family was told of the manner of death. The MU football team was told of his cause of death on Monday.


“Because of the tremendous swelling of the brain," said Rao, "the brain then has no place to go, so it goes into the spinal canal." As a result, she said, respiration and cardiovascular functions were impaired.

“That is how he died.”


Rao said that his death was extremely rare and that football had nothing to do with the cause of death. She also said that athletic trainers would have had no way of knowing that he had lymphocytic meningitis, and thus would not have been able to do anything.


Rao, Dr. Doug Anthony of University Hospital and a Harvard doctor all examined O’Neal’s brain.


Rao is still awaiting test results from the Center for Disease Control to see if O’Neal had viral meningitis.


Some questions went unanswered by Rao because she thought a neurologist would be more qualified to answer them.


At an off-season training session O’Neal struggled during the one-hour session and collapsed at 2:39 p.m., four minutes after the session ended. Minutes later O’Neal was helped to the locker room by a teammate.


O’Neal was then taken from the locker room with the help of a teammate and a trainer to the Tom Taylor Athletic Facility. According to a police report, O’Neal was unconscious upon arriving at the facility. Training staff called 911 and informed paramedics that O’Neal was in cardiac arrest. O’Neal was taken to the University Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 4:05 p.m.


Attorneys Robert D. Blitz and Scott Rosenblum are representing the O’Neal family in the wrongful death suit that was filed Tuesday.


There are 14 defendants listed in the suit including athletic director Mike Alden; head football coach Gary Pinkel; Mark Alnutt, director of football operations, and Rex Sharp, director of sports medicine.

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