NFL great Reggie White may have died because of a respiratory disease combined with other health problems, a preliminary autopsy report said Monday.
White most likely had a condition that affected the amount of air his lungs could hold, resulting in “fatal cardiac arrhythmia” -- irregular heartbeat -- said Mike Sullivan, the medical examiner for Mecklenburg County.
The report issued by Sullivan’s office also said sleep apnea may have been a factor.
The report is preliminary; determining a final cause of death could take up to three months, Sullivan’s office said.
White died Sunday in Presbyterian Hospital at Huntersville, N.C., after being taken there from his home in nearby Cornelius. His wife, Sara, called 911.
White had the disease, known as sarcoidosis, for several years, family spokesman Keith Johnson said Sunday. He described it as a respiratory ailment that affected White’s sleep.
On its website, the American Lung Assn. describes sarcoidosis as a disease characterized by the presence of small areas of inflamed cells that can attack any organ of the body but is most frequently found in the lungs.
The cause of the disease, which is most common among blacks and white northern Europeans, is not known.
Sleep apnea causes people to stop breathing repeatedly -- in some cases, hundreds of times -- during their sleep.
White and his wife lived in a gated community on Lake Norman. They had two children, Jeremy, a freshman at Elon (N.C.) College, and a daughter, Jecolia, a junior in high school.
An ordained minister who was known as the “Minister of Defense,” White played 15 seasons with Philadelphia, Green Bay and Carolina. He retired after the 2000 season as the NFL’s career sacks leader with 198. The mark was passed by Bruce Smith.
A member of the NFL’s 75th anniversary team, White was elected to the Pro Bowl a record 13 consecutive times from 1986 to 1998. He was the NFL’s defensive player of the year in 1987 and 1998.
He retired -- for the third time -- from the Panthers at 39.
White worked in the off-season with inner-city youths. But his image was tarnished when he gave a speech in which he denounced homosexuality and used ethnic stereotypes. He apologized later.