Fresno State football player Shane Gama says he nearly died during a summer practice.
More than a month later, his family awaits answers from the university about what happened.
“Basically, I should be dead,” Gama said in a church testimony video that was posted on Facebook by a relative.
Fresno State has hired the Overland Park, Kan.-based law firm of Bond, Schoeneck & King to conduct an external investigation. Findings, however, aren’t expected for about another month, said Steve Robertello, deputy director of athletics.
Gama, an offensive lineman who transferred from Southwestern College and under team rules is not permitted to talk to the media until he plays in a game, remains on the road to full recovery. He is watching fall practices while waiting for medical clearance.
The football player’s family, meanwhile, remains shaken by the July 15 incident when Gama went from the practice field to the intensive care unit.
“I want my kid to be safe there,” said his father, Enrique, who lives four hours south of Fresno in Chino. “I can’t help it. I get nervous (with) him being up there right now.”
Fresno State players were in the sixth week of an eight-week voluntary offseason program when Gama was stricken, according to Robertello.
I had about an 80-90 percent chance of dying.
Fresno State offensive lineman Shane Gama, in a church testimony
Fresno State stated in a news release that Gama suffered heatstroke during team conditioning July 15 and was taken by ambulance to Community Regional Medical Center (Fresno). The release, issued three days later, said Gama was in serious condition.
Coach Tim DeRuyter confirmed the workouts took place at about 1 p.m. that Friday and that Gama and the rest of the offensive linemen were running sprints followed by “up-down” drills toward the end of the practice when he collapsed.
Gama’s testimony – delivered at Praise Chapel Chino Valley, posted July 31 via Facebook Live, and viewed 562 times as of Friday – provided further details.
“We were doing conditioning like we’d done dozens of times before,” Gama said. “Basically, I was helped off the field and had a seizure on the field. That’s when the ambulance came and took me to the hospital with 105-degree body temperature.
“Was unresponsive. So I was breathing through a ventilator. Was in a coma for like about two days.”
After he regained consciousness, Gama said he learned of the seriousness of the situation.
“I had about an 80-90 percent chance of dying in the hospital,” Gama recalled. “My organs were shutting down – my kidneys and my liver.”
DeRuyter said the workouts were scheduled during the early afternoon because players had summer school in the morning.
Athletic trainers, per normal procedure, stood nearby holding water bottles for players, the Bulldogs coach said.
Questions persist, including:
▪ What was the extent of Gama’s hydration leading into the workout?
▪ Did anyone notice Gama showing signs of heat exhaustion before his collapse? And if so, why wasn’t anything done sooner?
▪ Given that heavy people are more prone to suffer from heat exhaustion, were Fresno State’s offensive and defensive linemen monitored more closely?
▪ How soon did Gama arrive at the hospital from the time he collapsed?
▪ Is there video of the summer workout?
▪ Why were workouts not shifted to the evening, given the temperatures?
▪ Did Fresno State take additional steps to prevent heat exhaustion?
▪ What are players taught about heatstroke prevention?
“We’re still putting those pieces together,” said Robertello, who added that the law firm Fresno State has hired specializes in issues dealing with student-athlete welfare and NCAA rules. “We’re trying to move as quickly as possible.”
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, people exposed to extreme heat can suffer from potentially deadly heat-related illnesses, such as heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Nearly 8,000 Americans have suffered heat-related deaths since 1979.
From 1999 to 2010, a total of 7,415 deaths in the U.S., an average of 618 per year, were associated with exposure to excessive natural heat, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People exposed to extreme heat can suffer from potentially deadly heat-related illnesses, such as heat exhaustion and heatstroke.
Fresno State’s voluntary workouts were supervised by strength and conditioning coach Thomas Stallworth, with the sports medicine staff also present. Stallworth was hired in April.
NCAA rules prohibit other members of the coaching staff, including DeRuyter, from attending voluntary offseason practices.
Stallworth, through associate athletic director Paul Ladwig, declined comment, citing the external investigation.
“We do this every year, but got to constantly reinforce to our players the need to hydrate the day before, the day of,” DeRuyter said. “Once you get out at practice and drink at that point, the trainers say it’s too late.
“You have to always be conscious of heat. Our players’ health is of paramount interest to us.”
Gama’s incident was the first time a Fresno State athlete, in any sport, suffered heat exhaustion in at least the past 10 years, Ladwig said.
The family hopes findings in the external investigation will help prevent it from happening again.
Enrique Gama urged the university to build an indoor practice facility for the football team.
“The heat in Fresno is not going to stop,” Enrique Gama said. “Fresno State needs an indoor facility. No matter how much it costs, it can’t be more than a player’s life.”
Gama transferred to Fresno State in January and participated in spring workouts conducted by the full coaching staff.
He was competing for a spot in Fresno State’s two-deep roster, and DeRuyter remains hopeful Gama can contribute this season rather than sit out and take a redshirt year.
“Anytime we bring junior college guys in, we don’t bring JC guys typically to redshirt,” DeRuyter said. “We bring them in to compete for a starting job or backup job.
“He had a good spring. Hopefully, he’ll get some good news and we’ll see.”
I’m not going to let that stop me from doing what I love.
Gama, in his church testimony, on continuing his pursuit to play football at Fresno State
Gama, who’s listed at 6 feet, 4 inches and 319 pounds, was a two-year starter at Southwestern in Chula Vista. He was named to the All-Mountain League second-team last season by the Southern California Football Association and rated as a two-star prospect by Scout.com.
In high school, Gama played at Orange Lutheran.
“I’m just thankful,” Gama said in the church testimony. “I’m on my road to recovery. Decided to get on the field again. I’m not going to let that stop me from doing what I love.
“I’m going to finish out my career at Fresno State playing football.”
Shane Gama file
FRESNO STATE FOOTBALL PLAYER
- Position: Offensive line
- Height/weight: 6-4/319
- Class: Junior
- Hometown: Chino
- Previously played: Southwestern College, Orange Lutheran High
- Accolades: Two-year starter and team captain at Southwestern; All-Mountain League second-team by the Southern California Football Association