A congenital coronary artery abnormality caused the heart failure that killed Kelani Thomas, a 19-year-old basic military trainee at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland at Texas, after a physical training run last year.
Air Education and Training Command on Thursday announced the results of the investigation into Thomas' May 4, 2015, death. AETC said that Thomas collapsed at 6:36 a.m. that day, shortly after completing a paced 15-minute run. After the run, intended to be a warm-up, finished at 6:30, Thomas began a second self-paced run that was to last 10 minutes. But before long, a military training instructor noticed Thomas appeared distressed and ordered her to stop running and walk.
After three minutes of walking, Thomas collapsed backwards and hit her head on the concrete. The MTI called for assistance, and the medical technician who responded ordered cardiopulmonary resuscitation after she became unresponsive, pulseless and stopped breathing.
An ambulance took her to the San Antonio Military Medical Center and the team administered advanced cardiac life support. But by 7:57 a.m., Thomas was not showing signs of improvement or cardiac activity. She was pronounced dead at the hospital.
An autopsy found that Thomas died from ischemic heart failure, or failure due to lack of oxygen, caused by a heart abnormality that could only have been detected using invasive measures, AETC said. The report found no evidence to conclude either Thomas or the Air Force was aware of her heart problem.
"Elevated physical activity, when combined with this condition, could prevent adequate blood flow to the heart," the report said.
The autopsy also found a liver dysfunction which contributed to her death. That problem would not have been detected by the standard medical screening of Air Force applicants, the report said, and there is no evidence Thomas was aware of it.
Thomas, of Troy, Alabama, was in her first week of basic training, and had passed all medical examinations during recruiting and training and had no health restrictions. Two days before she died, she passed her initial fitness assessment, which included a 1.5-mile run.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter at Defense News. He previously reported for Military.com, covering the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare. Before that, he covered U.S. Air Force leadership, personnel and operations for Air Force Times.