Chicago The heart condition linked to the death of St. Louis pitcher Darryl Kile is common and treatable, and should have been suspected, given his family history, doctors said Monday.
An autopsy showed the 33-year-old pitcher found dead Saturday had 80 percent to 90 percent narrowing of two of three main arteries to his heart.
While such extensive blockage in someone so young is unusual, the disease process that leads to it atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries is common and can begin as early as childhood, said Dr. Robert Bonow, president of the American Heart Association and a Northwestern University cardiologist.
Atherosclerosis contributes to nearly three-fourths of all U.S. deaths from cardiovascular disease, the nation's leading killer, according to the heart association. Atherosclerosis kills more than 15,000 Americans each year.
While most Americans who die of heart disease are 65 or older, research shows that 80 percent of heart disease deaths in younger people occur during the first attack.
"A very substantial proportion of patients with heart disease never have a clue, and he might have been one of them," said cardiologist Dr. Eric Topol, chairman of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic.
Kile's heart showed no sign of scarring or heart attacks, but it was abnormally enlarged, weighing 552 grams, while about 450 grams is normal, said Cook County's chief medical examiner, Dr. Edmund Donoghue.
Donoghue said the artery blockage likely triggered a fatal irregular heartbeat, but that a final finding could take 4-to-6 weeks, pending the results of toxicology tests. He said the tests are routine in such cases.