CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- NFL great Reggie White may have died because of a respiratory disease combined with other health problems, a preliminary autopsy report said Monday.
White most likely had a condition that affected the amount of air his lungs could hold, resulting in "fatal cardiac
arrhythmia," said Dr. Mike Sullivan, the medical examiner for
Mecklenburg County and a forensic pathologist.
The report issued by Sullivan's office also said sleep apnea may have been a factor.
The fearsome Philadelphia and Green Bay defensive end was 43.
The report is a preliminary one; determining a final cause of death could take up to three months, Sullivan's office said.
White died Sunday at Presbyterian Hospital in Huntersville after being taken there from his home in nearby Cornelius. His wife, Sara, called 911.
White had the disease, known as sarcoidosis, for several years, family spokesman Keith Johnson said Sunday. He described it as a respiratory ailment that affected White's sleep.
On its Web site, the American Lung Association describes sarcoidosis as a disease characterized by the presence of small areas of inflamed cells that can attack any organ of the body but is most frequently found in the lungs.
The cause of the disease, which is most common among blacks and white northern Europeans, is not known.
Sleep apnea causes people to stop breathing repeatedly -- in some cases, hundreds of times -- during their sleep.
"A 43-year-old is not supposed to die in his sleep," Johnson said. "It was not only unexpected, but it was also a complete
surprise. Reggie wasn't a sick man ... he was vibrant. He had lots
and lots of energy, lots of passion."
Johnson is the head of Christian Athletes United for Spiritual Empowerment, a ministry that White helped found. He said White had gone to see the movie "Fat Albert" on Christmas night with family and friends.
White and his wife lived in a gated community on Lake Norman.
They had two children, Jeremy, a freshman at Elon College in Elon,
and a daughter, Jecolia, a junior high school.
A public viewing will be held 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday at A.L. Jinwright Funeral Service in Charlotte. A private service also will
be held, although the details won't be made public, the funeral
home said Monday.
A two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and ordained
minister who was known as the "Minister of Defense," White played
15 seasons with Philadelphia, Green Bay and Carolina. He retired
after the 2000 season as the NFL's career sacks leader with 198.
The mark has since been passed by Bruce Smith.
A member of the NFL's 75th anniversary team, White was elected to the Pro Bowl a record 13 straight times 1986-98. He was the
NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 1987 and 1998.