Questions Linger About Half Marathon Death, But Are They Legitimate?

Credit: New York Road Runners

At 8:48 a.m. on May 17th, 31-year-old Williamsburg resident John Mahaffey crossed the finish line at the Brooklyn Half Marathon, and collapsed on the Coney Island Boardwalk. Race staffers attended to Mahaffey as he went through cardiac arrest, but he was later pronounced dead at Coney Island Hospital. Now there are some questions about how Mahaffey’s treatment was handled.

The Brooklyn Paper reports that their photographer saw race personnel comforting to Mahaffey—they “stroked his arm and reassured him”—but no one performed CPR or used a defibrillator, despite the fact that Mahaffey was convulsing. At 8:58, Mahaffey was taken away on a golf cart. No one on hand contacted emergency dispatchers until 9:08 a.m.. The ambulance that took Mahaffey to the hospital arrived one minute later.

A spokesman for the New York Road Runners, who organized the race, told the Paper that Mahaffey was being treated by medical staff at an on-site care center during the gap between the golf-cart retrieval and the call for help.

“The runner who passed away was immediately attended to just past the finish line and transferred to an on-site field treatment station along the Boardwalk where he continued to be treated by the NYRR medical team with FDNY on site and then transported to the hospital,” said Road Runners spokesman Chris Weiller. Weiller would not specify to the Brooklyn Paper what care Mahaffey received nor provide other seemingly-key details, like what type of medical personnel responded to the emergency, or how many.

But, of course, the lack of specifics in no way implies that the New York Road Runners have anything to hide. The Brooklyn Paper report would almost have you believe otherwise. It walks a thin line between being accusatory without cause and pointing out legitimate shortcomings. A study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology showed that most race deaths occur due to pre-existing heart conditions that runners may be unaware of. One in 50,000 runners are at risk of sudden death while running, and we’re no further toward knowing whether Mahaffey’s tragic end was the result of inadequate emergency care, or whether he was that one in 50,000.

Follow Phillip Pantuso on Twitter @phillippantuso.

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  1. CPR would not be performed on someone who is convulsing. Not all cardiac arrests indicate defibrillation. Maybe a little research before pseudo-slander?