Autopsy: Boy had big heart

Daily Pilot

An eighth-grader who collapsed and died in March while playing handball at Costa Mesa High School had an enlarged heart, according to autopsy results released on Monday by Orange County Sheriff's Coroner's office.

The March 10 sudden death of Eric Valdez, of Costa Mesa, shocked many people at the high school because he had shown no labored breathing or signs of any heart problems up until the moment of his collapse, witnesses said at the time.

Eric was taken to Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, in Newport Beach, at 5:04 p.m. after he collapsed while chasing a ball that had gone out of bounds during a match. He was pronounced dead at 6:21 p.m. Eric was 14.

At six feet tall and weighing more than 200 pounds, he was a popular student who was known around the high school campus, the site of the middle school as well.

Students wrote notes to Valdez on the walls of the handball court in the days following his death as a tribute and memorial to him.

"We will miss you forever, Eric," wrote one student in large black marker.

"We will see you in Heaven," wrote another.

The school's principal, Aaron Peralta, at the time described Valdez as "a really neat kid" who was going to be sorely missed, especially on the handball court, a sport he had just recently picked up.

"He loved handball, and he played it often," said Peralta.

Richard Gomez, in charge of the high school's security on campus, said Eric had a knack for playing the game, and Gomez said he'd see Valdez playing quite often. He had just recently picked up the sport, and the courts became a place where friendship was forged between the high schoolers and the middle schoolers.

"It's a shame what happened," Gomez said at the time of Valdez's death.

The scientific term for Valdez's heart defect is known as cardiomegaly, according to the coroner's office.

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