An autopsy found that sickle cell trait was a contributing factor in the death of an Eglin Air Force Base captain after a fitness test last August.
Capt. Tranay Tanner, 29, died Aug. 17, a day after showing health problems after completing part of her fitness test at Eglin in Florida, according to an investigation released by the Air Force on Tuesday.
A little after 8 a.m. on Aug. 16, after finishing her 1.5-mile run portion of the fitness assessment on Eglin’s outdoor track, Tanner said she was experiencing dizziness and double vision, the report said. She became unable to stand, and as officials running the fitness test tried to help her, she became unresponsive and stopped breathing.
The fitness test officials called 911 and began performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on her until they could detect her pulse, and she was quickly taken to the emergency room at Eglin, the report said.
Tests there showed she was suffering from acute kidney failure with critically high levels of potassium, leading doctors to transfer her to the Fort Walton Beach Medical Center for dialysis. But the damage to her organs, skeletal muscles and failing blood clotting system was severe, and continued to worsen throughout the day.
She went into cardiac arrest a little after 1 a.m. on Aug. 17, and was pronounced dead at 1:38 a.m., with her father by her side.
Tanner had a known diagnosis of the sickle cell trait, the report said, although she had never had any known complications related to it previously, or any previous medical complications during or after exercise or fitness assessments. Tissue samples and a blood smear showed no evidence of sickling, the report said.
The medical examiner who conducted the autopsy concluded that while there was no direct evidence that the sickle cell trait caused the medical problems that led to her death, it could not be ruled out, because a sickle cell crisis is so transient. For that reason, the medical examiner listed the sickle cell trait as a contributing factor to her death in the autopsy.
Tanner received an excellent on her previous fitness assessment, 13 months prior to her death, the report said.
After the deaths of Tanner and two other Black airmen following fitness tests last summer, the Air Force linked at least some of those deaths to the sickle cell trait. And in October, the Air Force began asking airmen about the sickle cell trait as part of their fitness screening questionnaires.
Tanner graduated from the Air Force Academy in 2012 and was an intelligence officer assigned to the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center Detachment 2.
Tanner “was highly respected by her peers, subordinates and superiors alike,” Brig. Gen. John Kubinec, president of the ground accident investigation board, wrote in the report. “She was a dedicated airman who served her nation with distinction and left a lasting positive impact on everybody she met. She will be missed by her family, friends and the United States Air Force.”
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.