On March 17, 2004, a tragic incident occurred on the lacrosse field of Cornell University. George Boiardi, a senior captain and defenseman of the men’s lacrosse team, was struck in the chest by a ball shot by an opponent from Binghamton University. He collapsed on the field and despite the efforts of medical personnel, he could not be revived. He was pronounced dead at 6:44 p.m. at Cayuga Medical Center. He was 22 years old.
What is Commotio Cordis?
The official cause of Boiardi’s death is thought to be commotio cordis, a rare syndrome that causes cardiac arrest due to a blunt, non-penetrating blow to the chest. According to The Johns Hopkins News-Letter, Boiardi’s family chose not to have an autopsy performed on his body, but the lack of other medical conditions and the speed at which he died point towards this medical phenomenon.
Commotio cordis occurs when the impact of the blow coincides with a specific phase of the heart’s electrical cycle, disrupting its normal rhythm and causing ventricular fibrillation. This is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate defibrillation to restore the heart’s function. However, even with prompt medical attention, the survival rate of commotio cordis is only about 15%.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, commotio cordis is most common in young males who participate in sports that involve projectiles, such as baseball, hockey, soccer, and lacrosse. The risk factors include the hardness, size, and speed of the object, the location and angle of the impact, and the vulnerability of the chest wall. The use of chest protectors may not prevent commotio cordis, as they do not alter the timing of the impact relative to the heart’s cycle.
How George Boiardi’s Legacy Lives On
George Boiardi was more than just a lacrosse player. He was a history major, a scholar, a leader, a mentor, and a friend to many. He had a reputation as the fastest player on the team, a hard-working and humble person, and a role model for his teammates and peers. He was also involved in various community service activities, such as tutoring local elementary school students and volunteering at a soup kitchen.
Boiardi’s death had a profound impact on the Cornell community and beyond. His teammates, coaches, friends, and family mourned his loss and honored his memory in various ways. Some of the initiatives that were inspired by Boiardi’s life include:
The George Boiardi Memorial Fund, which supports the men’s lacrosse program and provides scholarships for student-athletes who exemplify Boiardi’s values and spirit.
The George Boiardi Hard Hat Award, which is given annually to the Cornell lacrosse player who best represents Boiardi’s work ethic, leadership, and dedication.
The 21 Run, which is a 21-minute run that the lacrosse team does before every game to remember Boiardi and his jersey number.
The George Boiardi Leadership Program, which is a student-run organization that promotes leadership development and community engagement among Cornell students.
The increase of automatic external defibrillator machines on campus, which was advocated by Boiardi’s former teammates and coaches to improve the emergency response to cardiac arrest cases.
Ten years after his death, Boiardi’s legacy still carries on in the hearts and minds of those who knew him and those who were inspired by him. He is remembered as a great person, a great player, and a great kid. As Rob Pannell, a former Cornell lacrosse star and Tewaaraton Trophy winner, said: “Every time I see the number ‘21,’ I think of George Boiardi. 21 is not a number, it is a way of life.”