Texas Woman’s University releases rhabdomyolysis investigation report
Texas Woman’s University today (March 24) released the external investigation report into what caused eight volleyball student-athletes to be hospitalized in August 2016 with exertional rhabdomyolysis, a condition involving muscle tissue breakdown. A sports and education law firm led by Michael L. Buckner conducted the independent, external investigation and compiled the report. A copy of the report can be found at www.twu.edu/media/documents/news/TWUrhabdoreport.pdf.
Buckner also shared recommendations with the university to prevent a reoccurrence of rhabdomyolysis. A copy of those recommendations is available at www.twu.edu/media/documents/news/TWUbucknerrecommendations.pdf.
The report affirms the university’s initial beliefs that overexertion coupled with dehydration during preseason fitness tests caused the eight student-athletes to develop rhabdomyolysis. It also includes a third finding of “low-level fitness of the triceps muscle” as a contributing factor. In addition, the report details the timeline of events and the specific fitness tests that the entire 18-member volleyball team undertook.
The report specifically cites the student-athletes’ involvement in an August 18, 2016, fitness test, “which included 75 triceps pushups conducted by the women’s volleyball coaching staff” as the occurrence of the overexertion.
TWU Vice President for Student Life Monica Mendez-Grant said, “As the leader of the Office of Student Life, I accept responsibility for mistakes made during fitness testing with our volleyball players. I apologized to each student-athlete during the fall, and I do so again now publicly.”
She continues, “We are accepting the findings by our external evaluator and are taking the report’s findings seriously. We have implemented changes and will continue to address issues to ensure that this does not happen again.”
In accordance with the university’s athletics insurance program, all medical expenses related to the student-athletes’ hospitalization for exertional rhabdomyolysis are being processed and paid by TWU.
The report also mentions that the university’s strength and conditioning coach Brett Crossland, who is a graduate assistant, had concerns about the new fitness test presented to him by then-head volleyball coach Shelly Barberee and then-assistant volleyball coach Jessica Beener in August 2016 two weeks prior to the team reporting for the preseason. Crossland says that his relationship with the coaches was relatively new, and that he expressed these concerns. However, he felt he wasn’t in the position to say ‘no’ to the new fitness test.
“I believe communication between athletics coaches and staff could have been improved,” Mendez-Grant said. “Formal lines of communication have been addressed to ensure we have staff in addition to our coaches examining our fitness assessments and preseason workouts.”
TWU Athletics currently is working to change the strength and conditioning coach position from a graduate assistant to a staff position.
All eight of the affected volleyball student-athletes made a full recovery and returned to practice and competition after following proper protocols directed by the team physician and athletic training staff.
On August 12, 2016, Barberee began family leave. On August 24, 2016, Barberee resigned her position as head volleyball coach. Her resignation was not connected to the rhabdomyolysis outbreak.
Then-assistant coach Beener served as the interim head volleyball coach for the 2016 season. Beener resigned in February and on March 6, 2017, TWU announced Jeff Huebner as its new head volleyball coach.
The Buckner report was expected to be complete by the end of 2016. Its deadline was extended to the spring to allow Buckner time to acquire the medical records of the eight student-athletes in January and February, analyze these records and finalize the report. All members of the 2016 volleyball team, including the student-athletes not affected by rhabdomyolysis, participated in the investigation.
The TWU volleyball team released the following statement in response to the report:
“We are all eager to put this behind us and move forward. Our focus is on next season, and we are looking forward to the future. We would also like to thank Dr. Mendez-Grant for her leadership and guidance throughout the entire process.”
In response to the rhabdomyolysis outbreak, TWU Athletics has:
- Required education on rhabdomyolysis for all Athletics staff and student-athletes;
- Put steps in place to change the strength and conditioning coach position from a graduate assistant to a full-time staff position;
- Strengthened the lines of communication between coaches, athletic trainers and strength and conditioning staff through job descriptions and organizational reporting;
- Designed and conducted fitness assessments to take into consideration the acclimatization of each specific sport;
- Returned to individual fitness assessments;
- Placed numerous posters about hydration and urine in athletic facilities,
- Heightened emphasis on hydration by coaches during practices and competitions;
- Increased administrative oversight to preseason scheduling for soccer and volleyball, because these preseasons are condensed to two weeks and are coming off summer break; and
- Ensured that appropriate sport-specific fitness testing is vetted by coaches, athletic trainers and the strength and conditioning coach with authority resting with the assistant director of athletics for sports medicine (and authority always rests with the director of athletics.)
The Athletics Department also plans to host an educational presentation with an expert in the field of exertional rhabdomyolysis for the Athletics staff and other university departments. Additional nutrition services and consultations also are planned.
“Our Athletic programs always have played an important role in university life at TWU, and we are so proud of the rich traditions and of the success our student-athletes have both in the field of competition and in the classroom,” Mendez-Grant said. “I am confident that our legacy will move forward with our diligent attention to the health and well-being of our students.”
She added, “TWU appreciates the cooperation of the student-athletes, Athletics staff, medical personnel and others who participated in this thorough investigation.”