Heart condition killed St. Peter's player
Thursday, June 23, 2005
Star-Ledger Staff
The St. Peter's College basketball player who was found dead in his dorm room Tuesday died of a grossly enlarged heart, according to preliminary autopsy results released yesterday.

"It looks like it was a natural death," said Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio, "but the finding is pending further studies."

Jefferson, a 6-4, 230-pound guard for the Jersey City college, died early Tuesday. His teammate and close friend, collegiate scoring leader Keydren Clark, found him on the floor near his bed.

The death of the popular 20-year-old athlete stunned and saddened students at the tight-knit college, which is holding a memorial prayer service for Jefferson at 12:30 today at the Chapel of St. Peter, 2641 Kennedy Blvd.

"We're all still in shock," said Dan Hodges, a fellow student and good friend of Jefferson's. "He was a big kid. He was tall and muscular. I don't know why it (the heart condition) wasn't detected."

Jefferson is the third student-athlete in the nation to die in the past few months of an enlarged heart, or hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a genetic disorder that leads to a thickening of the heart wall and increased risk of sudden cardiac arrest, according to Lisa Salberg of Rockaway, the founder of a nonprofit advocacy group for people with the condition.

"There is a disproportionate number of deaths in young black athletes to this disease," said Salberg, who suffers from the condition. One in 500 people have the illness, and it is the leading cause of sudden cardiac death in people under 40, she said.

Salberg's organization, the Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Association, has been pushing for better health screening for athletes. Most schools don't require the necessary heart exams that detect the condition, she said.

"We do believe athletics has an adverse effect on the heart," Salberg said. "When you have a heart that has too thick walls and doesn't relax properly, it is kind of like creating the perfect storm."

A star high school athlete, Jefferson grew up in the Queensbridge projects and was earning a bachelor's degree in accounting at St. Peter's College on a full scholarship. He had aspirations to own a record label, and he idolized Michael Jordan.

Calls to Jefferson's mother, Jacqueline, went unanswered yesterday.

Clark's mother, Rosie, said her son was too distraught to talk to the media yesterday.

"We're very sad," Rosie Clark said after learning of Jefferson's heart condition. "I'll tell my son. He may be able to find some peace with that."