High School Football Player's Death Highlights Difficulty of Diagnosing Internal Injuries

PHOTO: In this Sept. 25, 2015 photo, Warren Hills Regional High School quarterback Evan Murray looks over the Summit defense in Washington, N.J. PlayAP Photo
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The death of a 17-year-old football player has drawn attention to a rare type of injury that can be deadly.

Evan Murray died last Friday shortly after taking repeated tackles during a game. Autopsy findings released Monday revealed that the teenager had a massive intra-abdominal hemorrhage after his spleen was lacerated.

The Morris County Medical Examiner said in its findings that they believed Murray’s spleen was enlarged, making it more susceptible to injury.

Experts say that abdominal injuries can be hard to identify, especially in the heated moments of a close football game.

Dr. Susannah Briskin, sports medicine specialist at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, said players in contact sports are most at risk for these kinds of internal injuries, adding that “the abdominal area is not padded there’s not a lot of protection there.”

Briskin explained that in the moment if a player has an internal injury, such as a lacerated spleen, they may not realize anything is wrong.

“They present with abdominal discomfort or abdominal pain,” Briskin explained of patients with internal bleeding. “They may not realize it’s an issue.”

She said patients often just think the pain is normal and not a sign something else is wrong. In these cases she said patients may not get help until they start losing enough blood to cause additional symptoms, specifically shortness of breath or light-headedness.

“You’re dependent on the athlete bringing it to your attention,” said Briskin, who said some athletes don’t notice a racing heart beat in the middle of a game. She said sometimes no one realizes something is seriously wrong until “the athlete collapses due to the blood loss.”

Briskin stressed these kinds of severe injuries are rare and that there are steps people can take to safeguard themselves. While the cause of Murray’s enlarged spleen is unknown, Briskin explained that the most common cause for an englarged spleen in teenager is undiagnosed mononucleosis virus. She said if a teen is diagnosed with mono they are kept out of contact sports.

She also said if a teen has a significant abdominal hit, he or she should get checked out on the sidelines for extreme tenderness in the belly area.

ABC News' Megan Keneally contributed to this report.