Keeley Dorsey's death ruled as 'natural' causes
More than seven months after Keeley Dorsey's tragic death during a team conditioning workout, the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's Office released a statement Thursday stating that the 19-year-old USF running back died of natural causes.
The medical examiner who handled Dorsey's case believes a rare congenital heart disorder led to his sudden collapse, but tests that would have confirmed that diagnosis could not be performed. A Tampa lawyer representing Dorsey's family says he'll continue to search for answers.
A short release stated that Dorsey died of "sudden cardiac death of undetermined etiology." Months of testing showed no presence of drugs, no evidence of disease or injury, nor proof of any underlying genetic condition. Dorsey, a freshman from Tallahassee, collapsed and died on January 17 while the Bulls were going through an off-season workout in the school's athletic facility.
"This is a case where the absence of proof is not proof of absence," said Laura Hair, an associate medical examiner who handled the Dorsey case. "We did not find anything abnormal. His toxicology was totally clean, and we looked at a microscopic level and did not find anything."
Having exhausted the testing that can be done locally, Hair had sent samples of Dorsey's blood and tissue to a lab in Connecticut that can do more specific genetic testing that could point toward a specific cardiac condition. Five times, the test was attempted, but the tissue sample was not large enough to extract the kind of DNA sample necessary for such a test.
"It's through this case that I've learned what they need," Hair said. "We couldn't get what we needed from the tissue we had available."
The medical examiner's office even tried to find answers from DNA samples from Dorsey's brothers, but because they do not share the same two parents as Dorsey, their DNA could not be used. Asked if she thought the findings were in any way incomplete, Hair said that was not the case.
"They're as complete as we're going to get right now. I think I've done as much as I can," she said. "We've exhausted what we can do."
Hair said she believes Dorsey may have had "long QT syndrome," a congenital cardiac disorder involving the prolonging of the heart's brief recovery period following a pulsing of its ventricles. It's a common cause of sudden heart arrhythmia, a cause for unexpected collapse and death as Dorsey suffered. The outsourced DNA tests could have confirmed such a condition.
According to medical web site Emedicine.com, LQTS is thought to cause 4,000 deaths per year in the United States. It can be expected to occur in roughly 1 in 10,000 individuals in this country, according the site, and "usually occurs in otherwise healthy young individuals."
Dorsey, who played at Tallahassee's Lincoln High School, had a 52-yard touchdown run on the final play of USF's season opener against McNeese State last season. His loss was felt not only through USF's athletic department but across campus as students mourned the death of a promising young player.
"I hurt for Keeley. I hurt for Keeley's parents. I hurt for our team," coach Jim Leavitt said the day Dorsey died. "Keeley was a tremendous person. He was always upbeat and an inspiration to me and all of us. He had a great impact on our team, and he will be sorely missed."
USF's athletic department initially had no comment Thursday on the findings. The Bulls will remember Dorsey, along with former player Javan Camon and dance-team coach Caroline Wiren, who also died this spring, with a moment of silence before the team's first home game against Elon on Sept. 1.
Shortly after his death, Dorsey's family had retained the services of Tampa attorney Barry Cohen, a high-stakes litigator with numerous multi-million-dollar verdicts to his credit. Cohen said he was only helping the family look for answers, and that a decision about any potential litigation would not be made until after the medical examiner's office released their findings.
Reached Thursday afternoon, Cohen said he will have at least one independent medical examiner look at Dorsey's case to make sure nothing has been overlooked.
"The bottom line is they can't find out why he died. If there's no fault, I'm not looking to blame anybody," Cohen said. "I'll have someone look at it, maybe a couple of people, to see if there's more to this story than what we know right now. I've seen too many cases where the medical examiners make mistakes. I'd like to think they're good, but that's with two O's, not one."
Hair said her findings showed nothing that suggested Dorsey's death could have been prevented.
"There was no history, nothing that would say there's a possibility of this happening," she said. "There was no indication of any cardiac anomaly in what was a very long search."
(Times photo - Ted McLaren)