Boy's Heart Stopped After Fall on Softball

sudden death objects?ABC Photo Illustration
Sudden death objects?

Maurice Davenport, a 14-year-old who had been abandoned by both his parents as a young boy, was killed in a freak softball accident in Chicago Wednesday.

The tri-sport athlete fell on a softball he had caught during his school's first game of the season, falling chest-first, then asking for a glass of water before collapsing on the field in Roseland -- the gritty South Side neighborhood where President Barack Obama had worked as a community organizer.

"I was like a father to him," said Booker Hatcher, 27, whose mother had raised Maurice and his four other siblings. "It was just the sudden impact. He made the catch and the ball was between the ground and his shirt. He threw up and then his eyes rolled back and he passed."

"There was no trauma to his body, he was very peaceful," Hatcher told "He went through a lot of stuff with his mother and father not being there. But he was peaceful."

Maurice was pronounced dead at Advocate Christ Medical Center at 6:11 p.m. Hospital officials said the boy arrived unresponsive and an autopsy will be performed to determine the cause of death.

"It was so unusual," said hospital spokeswoman Stephanie Johnson. "We are a level-one trauma center and we have seen sudden death when kids are training and that is something genetic. This is so different and we haven't ever seen anything like this. I've only seen it in the movies."

'Commotio Cordis' Could Have Caused Death

According to Dr. James Doherty, who treated Maurice, the boy may have died from commotio cordis, a sudden heart rhythm disturbance that is most often seen in young male athletes who receive a blow to the chest.

Other athletes have died after sustaining injuries from a fast ball to the chest, but doctors have reported similar sudden death incidents with an air-filled soccer ball, a hockey puck and a lacrosse ball, said Doherty, who is the trauma director at Advocate Christ Medical Center.

"It can happen even with the velocity of pitched baseballs at 48 miles per hour, the mid-level of the batting cage," he told "So theoretically, it doesn't have to be a Nolan Ryan [Texas Ranger who pitched at 100 m.p.h.] fast ball."

"The critical issue is that it occurs at a susceptible moment in the heart cycle," said Doherty.

"The hospital did all they could," said Maurice's cousin, Hatcher, who lives with the large extended family.

Deborah Hatcher, who works as a caregiver, had raised Maurice since he was 7, according to her son. The boy had no known previous heart problems.

"She had three biological children of her own," said Hatcher. "They all got degrees and then she started over with her sister's kids. My mother called me from California to help her with kids. They were in foster care and had no money."

"She raised them herself and I left school early to help," said Hatcher, who now works as an operation's apprentice at People's Gas. "She took care of all five of them in a two-bedroom apartment."

The day of the accident, Maurice had switched from shortstop to outfield, because he was one of the few players able to catch the hits, his teammates told the Chicago Tribune.

Their school, Garrett A. Morgan Elementary, had just organized a softball team.

Maurice was the school's best football player and was soon joining his cousin at the local high school where Hatcher, who is a father himself, was assistant coach.

The impact to the chest likely induced a fatal arrhythmia, according to his doctors, who are awaiting the results of an autopsy.

Fatal Arrhythmia

Doherty said he found no fluid around the boy's heart to suggest atropic cardiomyopathy, a genetic condition (enlarged heart) that is most often associated with the deaths of young athletes. There were also no injuries to the chest.

Fatal arrhythmias occur when an impact to the chest causes an exaggeration of the normal electrical activity of the heart during a "susceptible" period in heart rhythm, according to Doherty, who said an external defibrillator at the scene could have saved the boy's life.

"This is a good example where for children's or young adults' athletics, it's a good idea to have it around. "If [Maurice] had access to it -- any lay person can use it -- it may have saved his life."

There are more than 250,000 sudden cardiac deaths per year and most are thought to be from ventricular fibrillation.

The term "arrhythmia" refers to any change from the normal sequence of electrical impulses. The electrical impulses may happen too fast, too slowly, or erratically -- causing the heart to beat too fast, too slowly, or erratically.

When the heart doesn't beat properly, it can't pump blood effectively. Then the lungs, brain and all other organs can't work properly and may shut down or be damaged.

According to heart rhythm specialist Dr. David E. Haines, who did not treat Maurice, a blow to the chest used to be used routinely in CPR training.

"The idea behind a good thump to the chest is that it acts like a stimulus, and we used to think the shock could potentially terminate potentially abnormal rhythms," said Haines, chairman of the cardiology department at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich.

Common in Karate, Baseball

"But it can work the opposite way as well," Haines told "A thump to the chest in the wrong timing relative to the cardiac cycle can initiate a life-threatening arrhythmia."

These fatal arrhythmias happen in sports like karate and baseball, where there is inadequate chest protection, according to Haines, who said a move was afoot to compel baseball manufacturers to "beef up" the design of uniforms and equipment.

"Any blow to the chest at exactly poor times can kill an otherwise completely healthy person," he said. "It's uncommon, but it's out there."

Meanwhile, Maurice's family is mourning the death of the young teen.

"I believe they took him for a reason," said Booker Hatcher. "He went through a lot of stuff with his mother and father not being there. But he was peaceful and I am glad he touched kids' lives at his school. We talked to his teammates and everybody loved him."