The mother of a Navy recruit who died in boot camp claims the service ignored clear PT-related health risks

Health & Fitness

VIDEO: The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter

The mother of a Navy recruit who died after a boot camp run at the Great Lakes base earlier this year said she will seek a second autopsy after a blood disorder was determined to have played a role in her daughter's death.

Kenya Evans said the Navy discovered that her daughter Kierra, 20, possessed the sickle cell trait during a medical exam. Most who have it don't experience symptoms of sickle cell disease — a potentially lethal condition that causes blood cells to deform and clog blood vessels — but they can surface during hard exercise.

On Feb. 22, Kierra Evans was doing a timed training run at the North Shore base when she threw up and collapsed, according to Lake County coroner records obtained by the Tribune. She was transported to Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital but fell into cardiac arrest and died.

The coroner determined that the cause of Evans' death was exertional rhabdomyolysis — the breakdown of muscle tissue during intense exercise — with sickle cell trait listed as a significant contributing factor.

Kierra Evans(U.S. Navy photo)

Evans was the first of two recruits to die during boot camp this year. Kelsey Nobles, 18, of Mobile, Alabama, died April 23 from a probable cardiac arrhythmia due to myocarditis — in other words, an abnormal heartbeat caused by inflammation of the heart muscle.

Though Nobles also possessed the sickle cell trait, the coroner's office concluded it did not play a role in her death.

The deaths prompted Great Lakes to announce in May it was withholding people with unnamed "medical traits" from intense exercise pending a review.

The Navy also issued an administrative memo telling fitness trainers to familiarize themselves with sickle cell trait, and for African American personnel, who are disproportionately affected by the condition, to "engage with medical (staff) to determine their status and understand the risk."

A Great Lakes spokesman did not return messages seeking comment Monday.

Kenya Evans said her daughter, who was from Monroe, Louisiana, didn't grow up an athlete but did physical training during high school ROTC classes. But the exercise at boot camp was far more intense, she said, and Kierra apparently struggled with it.

Two days before Kierra's death, she made a brief call home and told her mother she was being "ASMO'd" — Navy slang for being set back in training — for unspecified medical reasons, Kenya Evans said.

The coroner's report says little about the circumstances of Kierra Evans' death, though some researchers have found that people with sickle cell trait are particularly susceptible to exertional rhabdomyolysis, which can shut down the heart and kidneys. Medical journals have recorded numerous instances of military members dying from the syndrome.

"This is something that's been described repeatedly in military recruits going back to the 1980s," Dr. Victor Gordeuk, director of the sickle cell center at the University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago. "It still is the case that people with sickle cell trait need to take extra caution, rest frequently, drink fluids frequently and not overexert themselves. It's well-known."

The Navy requires recruits with sickle cell trait to wear red belts during physical training, and Kenya Evans said that should have told the instructors not to push her daughter too hard.

"If they felt like she was struggling with that exercise and knowing her health condition, they should have sent her back home," she said. "That's how I feel about it."

Kierra Evans' death certificate was finalized Oct. 22. Kenya Evans said she planned to have her daughter's body exhumed and a second autopsy performed to learn more about the circumstances of Kierra's death. The Navy, she said, has told her little about it.

"This health condition (Kierra had), they knew it," she said. "They found it. They should have handled it better."

The coroner's reports include more details about Nobles' death.

Witness statements say Nobles, who was wearing a red belt, was close to finishing the one-and-a-half mile run required to graduate from boot camp — recruits must hit cutoff times that vary depending on sex and age — when she collapsed.

She repeatedly tried to get back on her feet with the encouragement of her recruit division commander, and when she couldn't, crawled to the finish line.

One statement says Navy personnel tried to keep Nobles awake and hydrated, but she quickly became unresponsive. The lead instructor called an ambulance that transported Nobles to Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital, but she died in the emergency room.

The coroner's report concluded that while Nobles had sickle cell trait, there was no evidence it played a role in her death.

Nobles' family could not be reached for comment.

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which reviews deaths that don't involve combat or terminal disease, declined to release its findings to the Tribune, saying the investigations were still pending.


©2019 the Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

(Associated Press photo)

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Mark Esper expressed confidence on Sunday in the U.S. military justice system's ability to hold troops to account, two days after President Donald Trump pardoned two Army officers accused of war crimes in Afghanistan.

Trump also restored the rank of a Navy SEAL platoon commander who was demoted for actions in Iraq.

Asked how he would reassure countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq in the wake of the pardons, Esper said: "We have a very effective military justice system."

"I have great faith in the military justice system," Esper told reporters during a trip to Bangkok, in his first remarks about the issue since Trump issued the pardons.

Read More Show Less

On a military base, a black flag is bad news. That means it's too hot outside to do anything strenuous, so training and missions are put off until conditions improve.

As the climate changes, there could be plenty more black flag days ahead, especially in Florida, a new analysis from the Union of Concerned Scientists found. America's military bases could see an average of an extra month of dangerously hot days by mid-century. In Florida, they could quadruple.

Pentagon data shows heat-related illnesses and injuries are on the rise in every branch of the military. Last year, nearly 2,800 troops suffered heatstroke or heat exhaustion, a roughly 50 percent jump from 2014.

"I think most of us, if we hear there are tens of thousands of cases of heat stress in our troops every year, our minds would go to where they were deployed," said Kristy Dahl, a senior climate scientist at UCS and the lead author of the study. "But more than 90% of the military cases of heatstroke happened right here at home."

Read More Show Less
In this March 12, 2016, file photo, Marines of the U.S., left, and South Korea, wearing blue headbands on their helmets, take positions after landing on a beach during the joint military combined amphibious exercise, called Ssangyong, part of the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle military exercises, in Pohang, South Korea. (Associated Press/Yonhap/Kim Jun-bum)

BANGKOK (Reuters) - The United States and South Korea said on Sunday they will postpone upcoming military drills in an effort to bolster a stalled peace push with North Korea, even as Washington denied the move amounted to another concession to Pyongyang.

The drills, known as the Combined Flying Training Event, would have simulated air combat scenarios and involved an undisclosed number of warplanes from both the United States and South Korea.

Read More Show Less

An opening ceremony will be held Monday on Hawaii island for a military exercise with China that will involve about 100 People's Liberation Army soldiers training alongside U.S. Army counterparts.

This comes after Adm. Phil Davidson, head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, spoke on Veterans Day at Punchbowl cemetery about the "rules-based international order" that followed U.S. victory in the Pacific in World War II, and China's attempts to usurp it.

Those American standards "are even more important today," Davidson said, "as malicious actors like the Communist Party of China seek to redefine the international order through corruption, malign cyber activities, intellectual property theft, restriction of individual liberties, military coercion and the direct attempts to override other nations' sovereignty."

Read More Show Less

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday told North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to "act quickly" to reach a deal with the United States, in a tweet weighing in on North Korea's criticism of his political rival former Vice President Joe Biden.

Trump, who has met Kim three times since 2018 over ending the North's missile and nuclear programs, addressed Kim directly, referring to the one-party state's ruler as "Mr. Chairman".

In his tweet, Trump told Kim, "You should act quickly, get the deal done," and hinted at a further meeting, signing off "See you soon!"

Read More Show Less