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'Polkey'Autopsy: clots caused death

Jacob Konst/Arizona Daily Wildcat
UA head women's basketball coach Joan Bonvicini speaks about Shawntinice Polk yesterday afternoon in McKale Center. Bonvicini tearfully said Polk was like a daughter to her and will be missed by the UA community.
By Danielle Rideau
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
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Memorial for Polk tonight in McKale Center

UA women's basketball player Shawntinice Polk died of cardiac arrest Monday morning after a blood clot traveled from one of her legs to her lungs, a county medical examiner said.

Polk collapsed in McKale Center after mentioning she was feeling ill and was taken to University Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead, said UA athletics director Jim Livengood.

Attempts to resuscitate Polk were made at both McKale Center and UMC, but both were unsuccessful, said Dr. Eric Peters, Pima County's deputy chief medical examiner. Peters said he was unsure whether an automated external defibrillator or mouth-to-mouth was used in either case.

Although the 22-year-old had surgery on her left knee in December to repair cartilage and bone damage that resulted from a game injury, Peters said the blood clots were not related to the surgery.

Peters said he was told Polk had asthma and hadn't been feeling well in the days before her death.

If her symptoms seemed related to asthma, it might have been because of the blood clots, he said.

"If she were having the symptoms that were respiratory in origin, it very well may mean that she was starting to have blood clots traveling to her lungs at that time," Peters said.

Polk might not have known she had a blood clot because its symptoms are similar to an asthma attack, Peters said.

Peters said blood clots could have been in Polk's legs anywhere from one day to a few months before traveling to her lungs.

Shawntinice Polk

While blood clots can form in anyone's body, it is not common for people to die from them, Peters said.

"The majority of people who have blood clots that go to the lungs seek treatment for symptoms ... and they are OK," Peters said.

Polk, who had a 6-foot-5 frame, could have been predisposed to having blood clots because of her size, Peters said.

"Her size and weight could play a role because the weight will cause increased pressure within the pelvis that further decreases the blood to flow back out of the legs," Peters said.

While it is not known what caused the clot in Polk's lungs, there are several ways a blood clot can form, said Richard Herrier, a clinical associate professor in the College of Pharmacy.

One way is the use of some prescribed medications, like hormone replacement therapy drugs and birth control medication, which increase the risk of deadly blood clots, he said.

Although highly unlikely, Herrier said, a clot could have formed in Polk's legs if she were taking such medication.

"It is a very low percentage in young, healthy women," Herrier said.

He said a more likely cause for a large clot would be a trauma-related injury or complications from a recent surgery.

UA women's basketball head coach Joan Bonvicini held a press conference yesterday but would not answer questions regarding Polk's medical condition.

Bonvicini said "Polkey" was like her daughter, and she will be missed by her teammates, student-athletes, the community and UA students.

"Polkey in her 22 years touched so many people here in Tucson, in her hometown of Hanford (Calif.) and across the country," Bonvicini said.

The athletics department is holding a memorial for Polk tonight in McKale Center at 6:30. Visitors are asked to sit on the east side of the stadium.

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