Cause and Setting – The Death of Dale Oen

My son is five. This year, he learned about the main parts of a story: character, setting and plot.

On Monday, Dale Oen died. He was favored to win gold at the Olympics this summer. He was not expected to be the

most recent high profile athlete to die of sudden cardiac arrest.

His death raises many questions about checking the hearts of athletes, particularly Olympic athletes. Our support of heart screenings for all students is well documented. However, his death also brings awareness to the confusing history of swimming and sudden cardiac arrest.

According to the CDC, ten people drown every day. I contend that for many of them, a body of water is just the setting. Sudden cardiac arrest is the cause (or conflict). Unfortunately, we’re not accustomed to asking the right questions.

“An analysis of serious injuries at 144 aquatic facilities at colleges and universities around the country found in a recent five-year period that 70 percent of all deaths were due to heart attacks while just 10 percent were a result of drowning.”

Over the past seven years, we’ve met lots of people that have been affected by sudden cardiac arrest. In one instance, a student collapsed outside of the pool after meet. His cause of death was listed as drowning; he wasn’t even in the water. In another instance, two relatives reportedly drowned. Years later, a grandchild was found to have Long QT Syndrome. They didn’t drown.

In this tragic story about Dale Oen, the setting was his room. The cause of death was sudden cardiac arrest. Moving forward, particularly when there is water involved in a sudden death, we should do what my son does in kindergarten – consider the main parts of the story. Hopefully, we’ll do a better job of differentiating between the setting and cause, and start asking the supporting characters to get their hearts checked.


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