Intense workouts preceded hospitalization of 13 football players


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Thirteen Iowa football players admitted to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics are suffering from a muscle injury syndrome known as rhabdomyolysis, likely in connection with NCAA-permitted off-season workouts.

UI spokesman Tom Moore said Wednesday during a news conference at Carver-Hawkeye Arena that all 13 “continue to respond very well to treatment.” Twelve players were initially admitted Monday according to a UI press release on Tuesday, and a 13th was later admitted following that press release.

Rhabdomyolysis involves the release of muscle fiber contents into the bloodstream and can result in kidney damage.

John Stokes, a UI professor of nephrology who specializes in kidney function and disease, said there are “maybe 100 different causes” for rhabdomyolysis.

“One of the most common scenarios we look for is recent exercise,” he said. “So heavy exercise, even in healthy individuals, can produce it.”

Stokes said symptoms primarily consist of muscle pain, although discolored urine — sometimes “tea-colored, dark brunette, or even reddish” — is typically what alarms one suffering from it.

Treatment involves the administration of IV fluids, Stokes said, as well as the monitoring of the patients’ blood components, electrolytes, and muscle waste products. The goal of health-care providers at this stage is to prevent any further kidney damage.

Dialysis can be a measure of treatment — but rarely.

“It’s unusual to have that severe of an injury,” Stokes said. “I don’t know the circumstances right now, but particularly in young, healthy, otherwise normal individuals, if they have a muscle injury, that the recovery is usually quite reasonably quickly, and seldom would dialysis be necessary. “

When asked if it was possible the student-athletes were being overworked, Stokes simply said it was “way too early to tell.”

No specific details about any of the affected individuals, nor their identities can be released due to privacy laws, though Biff Poggi — father of freshman linebacker Jim Poggi — confirmed his son is among the 13 hospitalized players. Biff Poggi chose to speak at the news conference, citing a desire to provide a “parent’s perspective.”

He said his son is progressing well.

“Obviously, when your son is admitted to the hospital, that’s a concern,” he said. “However, I would tell you that the responsiveness of how we have been dealt with has been — we have been happy with that. Very happy with what’s happened at the hospital. I can tell you that they are getting a lot of care.”

Over the past weekend, Jim Poggi told his father via telephone he was dealing with a “tremendous amount of soreness” after participating in the team’s first off-season workouts on Jan. 20 and 21.

The first workout — which focused on the lower body on Jan. 20 — involved a “heavy squat workout” that saw student-athletes complete numerous repetitions of a certain percentage of their maximum lifting weight in a set time period, which was followed by a power sled workout. The Jan. 21 workout involved similar activity, though it was focused on the upper body. A third workout on Monday was similar to the one that took place on Jan. 20.

Iowa director of football operations Paul Federici said these were similar to workouts the team oversaw in the past, and they shouldn’t catch student-athletes off-guard.

Players in the program know the winter workout phase is both “important” and “ambitious.” Those currently in the hospital include a variety of positions and ages, with some having been a part of the Iowa football program for “three or four years,” and others “only a semester.”

“The details of the workout they may not know, but they know it’s ambitious and they are going to work hard when they start the winter program,” Federici said.

In August, the New York Times wrote that 24 players at McMinnville High School (Oregon) reported to a hospital after suffering symptoms consistent with that of rhabdomyolysis. Players had taken part in a “grueling preseason workout,” which consisted of activity indoors without air conditioning while temperatures outside exceeded 90 degrees. Players also cited limited access to water.

Stokes said dehydration can contribute to rhabdomyolysis, though Federici later emphasized that water is “readily available” during Iowa’s workouts.

Biff Poggi, who is the head football coach at Gilman School in Baltimore, said this type of rigorous workout is “the same everywhere.”

“This time of year, if you’re a football player, is the time where you’re doing the most kind of strenuous work, kind of preparing for spring practice,” he said. “I have sent kids that have played for me all over the country to play [in college], and [these type of workouts are] what happens.”

Moore said there is currently no timetable for the release of the student-athletes, and that healthcare teams at UIHC would make decisions on a case-by-case basis.

Head football coach Kirk Ferentz was out of town recruiting — national signing day is Feb. 2 — but Fedrici said Ferentz was returning Tuesday night.

“The priority is that these young men recover and they get back to school as soon as possible,” Fedirici said. “Changes will be considered, I’m sure. We are always looking for a better way to do things, whether it’s part of our off-season program or how we organize training camp or any number of things. We are always looking for a better way to do things.”

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