In the months following a high intensity off-season workout with the University of Iowa football program in January 2011, former Hawkeye William Lowe experienced weight loss, pain in his lower body, headaches and high blood pressure.
In a lawsuit filed this week against the state – which oversees the university and its employees – Lowe asserts that coaches and athletic trainers should have known the risks associated with such intense workouts and should have reacted quicker to player concerns.
“The leg pain and stiffness experienced and reported by (Lowe) and other members of the football team was atypical and significantly greater than normal post workout muscle fatigue and soreness,” according to the lawsuit, filed Monday in Johnson County District Court.
Lowe, 25, of Cleveland, Ohio, was among 13 UI football players hospitalized after the workout and diagnosed with exertional rhabdomyolysis, a potentially-fatal syndrome caused by a breakdown of muscle fibers and release into the bloodstream.
In his lawsuit, which seeks financial compensation, Lowe says he suffered “acute renal failure with severe elevation of his creatine values” related to the rhabdo condition and continues to experience mental and physical pain, loss of body function, disability, and mounting medical expenses.
Lowe is the first player involved in the 2011 training incident to file a lawsuit to date. He started with a tort claim with the State Appeal Board but removed his claim from consideration after six months of inaction.
The controversial workouts inside "the bubble" football practice facility on campus began Jan. 20, 2011, following a three week break. After the first session, which focused on lower body muscle groups, several UI football players complained of substantial leg pain, stiffness and dark urine.
The following day, on Jan. 21, the team held another mandatory intensive workout, this time focusing on upper muscle groups. On Jan. 24, according to the lawsuit, the team held a third workout, even though players continued to report "extreme pain.”
That day, Lowe was admitted to the UI Hospitals and Clinics with rhabdo and remained hospitalized until Feb. 2.
Following the incident, Lowe asked to be released from his scholarship and never returned to the team.
In his lawsuit, Lowe accuses UI football coaches, trainers and staff of failing to properly supervise the intense workouts, not offering prompt and proper medical care in response to complaints of pain, aggravating player injuries with additional workouts, and developing a “dangerous and improper training program.”
Lowe couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.
UI officials didn’t comment on the pending litigation Monday.
An earlier UI investigation into the incident concluded that coaches didn’t know the disease was a risk when they planned the intense workout. The group that UI President Sally Mason convened to investigate the incident also found that players did nothing and ingested nothing to cause the condition.
The workout, which had been used before but never after a three-week break, has been discontinued.
A group of UI physicians also studied the incident in hopes of preventing future incidents. They determined rhabdo is not associated with age, height, weight, body mass, race or ethnicity. But they did see the risk increase the longer it took the players to complete the exercises.
The incident made national headlines, and industry experts on Tuesday said the case provided impetus for the National Athletic Trainers’ Association to analyze best-practice methods. In 2012, the association announced suggestions for preventing sudden death in collegiate conditioning – including a recommendation that training programs be tailored to suit individual athletes.
Douglas Casa, chief operating officer of the Korey Stringer Institute – a heat stroke prevention organization created after Stringer, a Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman, died of heat stroke in 2001 – said he thinks Lowe has an excellent case against the State of Iowa.
“They did a grossly inappropriate workout,” Casa said. “They did something really intense and novel on the first day these people were back. You don’t know their fitness levels. You don’t know what they did over break.”
Casa said the UI report indicating coaches and trainers did nothing wrong “was comical.”
“They didn’t take much responsibility for their behavior,” he said.
Having been an expert witness in criminal cases similar to the one in Iowa, Casa said he thinks Lowe has a good shot at winning – if the suit doesn’t settle out of court first.
“Those injuries were 100 percent preventable,” Casa told reporters in 2012. “There needs to be more oversight and people need to be more accountable.”Gazette reporter Erin Jordan contributed to this report.