University of Santa Clara football player Dave Cichoke, who died 36 hours after injuring his head during a game-saving tackle Saturday against Cal State Northridge, is the sixth football player in the nation to die of such an injury this year, a Santa Clara team physician said Wednesday.
Cichoke, 21, a 220-pound linebacker, died Monday of a brain hemorrhage in his off-campus apartment in Santa Clara. The Santa Clara team physician, Dr. Jeffrey Sall, who said the injury was originally diagnosed as a mild concussion, called Cichoke's death a freak accident. He said the internal bleeding apparently started 24 hours after the game.
Cichoke was taken to the Northridge Hospital Medical Center after complaining of a headache shortly after Saturday's game. He was examined and released after spending one hour at the hospital. Sall said that had a CAT scan of Cichoke's brain been performed at the Northridge hospital, it would not have revealed any damage. On Wednesday, hospital officials did not respond to telephone calls.
A spokesman for the Santa Clara County coroner's office said Wednesday that one or more blows to the head in Saturday night's game caused the weakening of blood vessels in Cichoke's brain. He said the vessels did not rupture until about noon on Monday.
"When the body is traveling at a substantial rate of speed and comes to a sudden stop--which is what happens in these football injuries--it results in minor tears in the brain tissue," said the spokesman, who declined to be named.
"In rare cases, the victims do not exhibit any neurological symptoms--paralysis or loss of memory or motor skills--that are common in these injuries. This was one of those cases. He complained only of a slight headache and being nauseated. Those symptoms are very common with any type of concussion."
Sall said medical statistics show that about eight such fatal injuries occur annually in the nation, from Pop Warner football through the National Football League. Cichoke's was the sixth in 1985. The other five players sustaining such an injury died within 24 hours, most of them within an hour or two of the injury.
Cichoke was injured in the closing minutes of the game at Northridge's North Campus Stadium when he made a head-first tackle of running back Richard Brown on a two-point conversion attempt. The tackle preserved Santa Clara's 21-19 victory. Cichoke was named the Western Football Conference's Player of the Week for his performance in the game. The announcement of the award came at about the same time his teammates discovered his body. His body was found at 12:15 p.m. by teammates John Faylor and Kevin Collins. A school official said Cichoke's arm was stretched out towards the telephone which he had knocked off the hook, apparently in an attempt to call for help.
Funeral services for the sophomore were held Tuesday in Santa Clara. Cichoke will be buried Saturday in his hometown of Portland, Ore.
Cichoke was an honor student and all-state swimmer at Portland's Jesuit High School. At his funeral, Rev. Robert Senkewicz delivered a homily and Cichoke's best friend on the football team, John Salberg, also spoke.
The team voted Tuesday to go ahead with this Saturday's game at home against Portland State. School official Mike McNulty said the players planned some type of remembrance of their teammate, such as wearing black armbands during the game, but no final decision had been made.
"During the game, he had been getting his shots," said Brown, who was hit by Cichoke on the crucial play at CSUN. "That last play added to it, I guess. But it makes me wonder if it was me who hit him and could have caused it. It's hard to bear."
CSUN Coach Tom Keele was also stunned by the death.
"We took it hard," he said. "It puts everything in perspective. A lot of times the Lord takes people home early. But this is a drastic, terrible thing."
Among those attending services in the Mission Church at Santa Clara Tuesday were Dr. Anthony and Margaret Cichoke. They later returned to Portland with the body of their son. He will be buried there Saturday following another memorial service, shortly before his Santa Clara team takes the field for its game.