Skip to content

    High School Basketball Star Wes Leonard Dies of Enlarged Heart

    Fennville, Mich., high school basketball star Wes Leonard collapsed and died of a heart condition Thursday night soon after scoring an overtime lay-up to assure his team a perfect 20-win season.

    WebMD’s partner-in-health CBS News is reporting that Leonard died of dilated cardiomyopathy, or an enlarged heart, according to David A. Start, MD, a forensic pathologist from Ottawa County, Mich.

    There are various types of enlarged hearts, and quite often they catch headlines when an athlete suddenly dies on the court or during practice. Dilated cardiomyopathy occurs when the heart muscle has been caused to expand, weakening the heart’s walls, especially the ventricles, causing an ineffective ability to pump blood through the body.

    There are various causes for this condition, but none has been given for Leonard’s condition at this point. One of the multiple reasons for dilated cardiomyopathy is what’s called myocarditis, which is inflammation of the heart muscle caused by a virus or immune system problem.

    Media reports say Leonard had also just recently gotten over a bout with the flu, but it would still be speculation to say that is the exact cause.

    There are often no symptoms for the heart condition at first, but being tired or short of breath are common, both conditions that may not be readily noticed in a young athlete who was preparing for or just finishing a competitive game, and had recently had the flu.

    Enlarged hearts are not uncommon in the general population, but they are rarer among young people. The condition often comes to light when an athlete suddenly dies (there is a related condition of an enlarged heart called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is often cited as a sudden cause of death), and the media reports on it because it seems so hard to believe a trained athlete could suffer a heart problem.

    Leonard, who was also the quarterback of his high school’s football team, reportedly worked very hard to be in peak physical condition, but that would not necessarily prevent dilated cardiomyopathy.

    There have been more efforts in recent years to give high school and college athletes more strenuous physicals to help detect any heart abnormalities, but there is no reassurance it would always make a difference.

    This episode, in a word, is just simply tragic.

    Sean Swint
    Executive Editor, WebMD


    The opinions expressed in WebMD Second Opinion are solely those of the User, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. These opinions do not represent the opinions of WebMD. Second Opinion are... Expand


    Subscribe to free WebMD newsletters.

    • WebMD Daily

      WebMD Daily

      Subscribe to the WebMD Daily, and you'll get today's top health news and trending topics, and the latest and best information from WebMD.

    • Men's Health

      Men's Health

      Subscribe to the Men's Health newsletter for the latest on disease prevention, fitness, sex, nutrition, and more from WebMD.

    • Women's Health

      Women's Health

      Subscribe to the Women's Health newsletter for the latest on disease prevention, fitness, sex, diet, anti-aging, and more from WebMD.

    By clicking Submit, I agree to the WebMD Terms & Conditions & Privacy Policy and understand that I may opt out of WebMD subscriptions at any time.

    URAC Seal TRUSTe Privacy Certification TAG seal HONcode Seal AdChoices