News22 Oct 1998

Autopsy proves Flo-Jo suffered an epileptic seizure - Nebiolo urges Media Restraint


Autopsy proves FloJo suffered an epileptic seizure  - Nebiolo urges Media Restraint

23 October, 1998 -Monaco - Coroners investigating the death of sprint legend Florence Griffith Joyner on September 21 have announced that she died of suffocation in her sleep after suffering an epileptic fit.

Since Griffith Joyner’s death at her home in Mission Viejo, California, investigators have been trying to determine the cause. There has also been frenzied Media reporting about supposed heart problems and allegations that the world's fastest woman had suffered the ultimate side-effect from using performance-enhancing drugs during a career that peaked in 1988 when she won 100m and 200m Olympic gold and set two world records - both of which still stand.

But Orange County officials said yesterday that Griffith Joyner had a congenital brain abnormality known as cavernous angioma, said Dr. Barbara Zaias, one of the investigators. The condition allows blood to accumulate outside normal blood vessels in the brain or spinal tissue, and may be found in 0.25 percent of the population, she said. Once considered rare, it has been detected more often in recent years with the advent of CAT scans and other diagnostic tools. The seizure apparently struck during sleep, causing Griffith Joyner's limbs to tense. It possibly wrenched her head to the right as she lay on her stomach, said Dr. Richard Fukumoto, chief of forensics for the Orange County sheriff and coroner. "In layman's terms, she suffocated," Fukumoto told reporters. Explaining the term "positional asphyxia," he said her airway was probably already constricted by the involuntary turning of her head. Pillows and blankets on that side further hampered her oxygen supply.

During a press conference, sheriff's spokesman Lt. Hector Rivera cut off questions about Griffith Joyner's medical history and whether the condition had been diagnosed. The abnormality has never been associated in medical research with steroids or any other drugs, Fukumoto said.

On hearing the report, IAAF President Primo Nebiolo made the following statement: "This report ensures that Florence Griffith Joyner will be able to rest in peace. Her family have had to endure irresponsible Media reports that have sought to tarnish her reputation - without any real proof. These campaigns of misinformation serve not only to damage individual athletes and our sport as a whole, but also have a negative impact on the multi-million dollar anti-doping campaign to which the IAAF has been committed for many years. I would urge Media representatives to act more responsibly in future cases of this type. I hope that, like the IAAF Family, they will now send a message of love and sympathy to the bereaved relatives who have lost so much. "