Iowa held a news conference earlier Wednesday afternoon where we got a few smidgens of information about the Hawkeyes football players who remain hospitalized. The number of hospitalized players has increased to 13, and it's now confirmed they are recovering from rhabdomyolysis, a muscle syndrome that can be caused by excessive exercise and can, in serious cases, cause kidney damage.
Iowa director of football operations Paul Federici addressed the media along with Dr. John Stokes, a kidney specialist at University Hospitals. Biff Poggi, whose son Jim, an Iowa freshman linebacker, is one of the hospitalized players, also appeared at the news conference and provided by far the most information about what has taken place during the last six days.
The players are responding well to treatment, although their release from the hospital remains unknown. Officials can't confirm the cause of the rhabdomyolysis, although they suspect it stems from a series of intense workouts.
Federici said all Iowa players went through the workouts, which are standard for this time of year but described as "strenuous" and "ambitious." Thursday marked the start of winter workouts, and according to Biff Poggi, the players did an intense series of squats where a certain number of reps needed to be done in a specific time period. Jim Poggi reportedly did 100 squats in 17 minutes.
Federici on the regimen: "It is strenuous, it’s ambitious, the student-athletes know that. … It has been part of our workout at this time of the year in the past. [The wave of health problems] is just an anomaly. We haven't seen this type of response."
Biff Poggi: "It was a hard workout and [Jim] called afterward and said it was a hard workout. He was very, very sore. Thursday was general fatigue. Thursday evening he started to have severe quad pain."
Iowa players went through an upper-body workout Friday before getting the weekend off, although Biff Poggi said Jim's muscle soreness actually got worse. Players went though another lower-body workout Monday, after which Jim Poggi had symptoms (discolored urine) consistent with rhabdomyolysis.
Biff Poggi said Jim's treatment has consisted of intravenous fluids, frequent blood work to check kidney function and bed rest. No dialysis has taken place. The officials couldn't comment on the treatment for the other players because of privacy laws.
The use of drugs and food supplements can contribute to rhabdomyolysis, although it's too soon to tell if that happened in the cases of these players. Hydration also is a factor, though Federici said fluids are readily available during these workouts.
Players went through the workouts in groups of 15-35 and all five Iowa strength coaches were present, Federici said. Muscle fatigue and soreness is typical after these workouts but the training staff began referring players to the hospital after more serious symptoms emerged.
Federici said head coach Kirk Ferentz is returning to Iowa City on Wednesday afternoon from a recruiting trip. Biff Poggi said he has been in touch with both Ferentz and linebackers coach Darrell Wilson multiple times in the past few days.
Federici: "Changes will be considered, I’m sure. We’re always looking for a better way to do things."
Stokes said it's typical for patients with rhabdomyolysis to be hospitalized for more than 48 hours. The good news is these are typically one-time occurrences. "What doctors are trying to be sure of is muscle injury improving and kidney function not getting worse," he said.
Clearly, there are many more questions that remain. This certainly wasn't Iowa's finest hour from a p.r. standpoint, and if not for Poggi's presence, the news conference would have been pointless. The big question among many folks is why Ferentz and athletic director Gary Barta weren't present Wednesday? Schools typically want to get their most recognizable figures in front of the media.
I get that, but my bigger issue is why none of the strength coaches appeared Wednesday. They were present at these workouts and they could have shed more light on what actually happened, the workout regimens, what they ask from the players, whether there is any precedent for these medical problems, etc.
Thirteen players in the hospital is a big deal, and Iowa needs to treat it that way in its dealings with the media and the public.
Stay tuned for more as the story develops.
“This is an ambitious and a pretty strenuous period of time we’re entering. … It is strenuous, it’s ambitious, the student athletes know that. … It has been part of our workout at this time of the year in the past. This is just an anomaly. We haven’t seen this type of response.”