High School Quarterback’s Tragic Death Highlights Silent Danger of an Enlarged Spleen

When you have had an infection, your spleen can stay enlarged for months after your symptoms have gone away. (Photo: Twitter)

A coroner’s report has revealed what killed a high school quarterback in New Jersey who died after taking a hit on the field: A cut to his spleen.

Evan Murray, 17, walked off the field on Friday night with the help of his teammates after taking a hit during his team’s third game of the season. He collapsed on the sidelines soon after.

Witnesses tell CBS News that Murray said he felt “woozy” but told his teammates that he would be fine as he was being taken to the hospital. He died soon after.

“The autopsy determined that the cause of death was massive intra-abdominal hemorrhage (massive internal bleeding) due to a laceration of the spleen,” the Morris County Coroner’s Office said in a statement to CBS New York. The statement also said that Murray’s spleen was “abnormally enlarged, thus making it more susceptible to injury.”

Murray’s teammates told CBS that they weren’t sure if the last hit the quarterback took ended up killing him. He had taken several hard hits during the game and seemed slow to get up at times.

The story is tragic…and also terrifying.

Your spleen is located under your rib cage in the upper left part of your abdomen near your back. It works as a drainage system to defend your body against infection, and has a significant amount of blood flow in and out of it.

A spleen can become enlarged for many reasons, including genetic diseases, William Katkov, MD, a gastroenterologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Yahoo Health. However, he says, since the spleen is essentially “one giant lymph node,” the most common reason for an enlarge spleen is an infection.

Chief among them: Mononucleosis, an infection that commonly occurs with young people. But hepatitis and tuberculosis can also cause a spleen to become enlarged, Shahan Chowdhury, MD, a board-certified physician at Diamond Luxury Health Care in Frisco, Texas, tells Yahoo Health, as well as vascular and auto-immune diseases.

But a person’s spleen can stay enlarged for months after an infection has seemingly gone away, Katkov says.

Here’s why that’s a problem: A person may feel better and resume their normal activities, but their enlarged spleen is more susceptible to rupturing and may no longer be protected by their ribcage, leaving it incredibly vulnerable to injury.

“An enlarged spleen is at an increased risk for rupture or injury in the setting of normal trauma, like a football game, diving into a pool, or minor car accident,” Katkov says.

While an enlarged spleen can be asymptomatic, Katkov says a person can feel uncomfortable or have a feeling of fullness in their upper abdomen on the left side. They might also have swelling in their extremities, fever and chills, and weight loss or gain, says Chowdhury.

If the spleen is injured and a person isn’t critically ill, a person may experience abdominal pain, pain in their left shoulder, or feel weak.

If you notice these symptoms, call your doctor.

Treatment of enlarged spleens and spleen injuries vary, Katkov says, ranging from careful monitoring to removal of the spleen altogether.

Katkov stresses that the average person shouldn’t worry about developing an enlarged spleen but says it’s important to talk to your doctor about the possibility that it could occur when you have a serious infection (and adjusting your activity levels accordingly).