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Gathers died of diseased, scarred heart, autopsy shows

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LOS ANGELES -- Autopsy results on Loyola Marymount basketball star Hank Gathers showed he died of a diseased and scarred heart muscle, but whether the athlete was taking medication prescribed for an irregular heartbeat remained unclear, the Coroner's office said Thursday.

Moreover, while the autopsy showed Gathers died of a 'diseased, inflamed and scarred heart muscle,' there was no indication of what caused Gathers' disease, Coroner's spokesman Bob Dambacher said.

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In medical terms, the death was attributed to 'idiopathic cardiomyopathy with residual interstitial myocarditis,' Dambacher said.

The autospy turned up no sign of illegal drugs in Gathers' body.

While answering some questions, the autopsy did not reveal whether Gathers had taken medication prescribed for his heart condition before going into convulsions in the middle of a game March 4 and dying.

Dambacher said results of a toxicological test for the medication would not be available before Monday.

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But Dr. Donald Catlin of the UCLA School of Pharmocology said toxicologists will have trouble determining when Gathers last took the drug. 'It is always difficult to know how many hours ago it was taken,' he said.

Bruce Fagel, an attorney for Gathers' family who is also a physician, said the toxicological tests are designed to reveal toxic levels of drugs, and not minute 'sub-therapeutic' amounts of medication.

'Since he was taking such small amounts of Inderal, it may not have mattered if he stopped taking it or not,' said Fagel. 'He may have been taking a non-effective dose anyway.'

Fagel said the autopsy contained 'no surprises.'

'Due to the speculation concerning cocaine and other drugs, it was important that the toxicology tests showed he was not on any illegal or illicit drugs. That is important for the family who knew Hank was clean,' he said.

Fagel said any suits filed by his office would occur only after the NCAA Tournament is over because of Loyola Marymount's involvement.

Gathers, 23, collapsed at midcourt during a semifinal game against Portland in the West Coast Conference tournament at Loyola's Gersten Pavilion. He was pronounced dead less than two hours later at Daniel Freeman Marina Hospital.

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Gathers, the 11th-ranked scorer in NCAA history, had fainted during a Dec. 9 game against UC Santa Barbara. He underwent a series of tests that revealed he suffered from an irregular heartbeat.

He was prescribed Inderal, a beta-blocker that helps control abnormal heart rhythms. Gathers complained the medication made him sluggish, and records reportedly show he reduced the dosage three times -- from 240 milligrams to 40 milligrams -- at the recommendation of cardiologist Dr. Vernon Hattori.

Fagel announced last week that he eventually would file a suit against Loyola in Los Angeles Superior Court.

'Clearly the university wanted Mr. Gathers to play and they were involved,' Fagel said last week.

In his first, indirect response to the anticipated lawsuit, Loyola basketball coach Paul Westhead on Wednesday said, 'I tried to do my best to do good for (Gathers). I know in my heart I did, and I'm certain Hank Gathers knows that.'

He added that it was 'ridiculous to think that I called his doctors and said let's cut his dosage from 200 to 100, or whatever. That's ludicrous. Do you think they'd listen to me.'

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