Reggie White died December 26, 2004. Reggie was a legend. He was 6’5″ and 300 pounds .. . not afraid of anything or anybody. He played football for the University of Tennessee, the Philadelphia Eagles, the Green Bay Packers and the Carolina Panthers. He was the NFL Player of the Year twice, 13 time Pro Bowl selection and 12 time All Pro. He was a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and a ‘first ballot’ NFL Hall of Famer, and … an ordained Christian minister. He was loved by everyone, teammate and opponent, alike. Reggie died in his sleep at age 43.
How can someone, especially a professional athlete just die in their sleep? Reggie had sleep apnea, a condition that causes a person to stop breathing while they are sleeping. Reggie didn’t die of sleep apnea. He died of a lethal arrhythmia (heart disease), one of the associated maladies of those with obstructive sleep apnea. The mortality rate of people with sleep apnea is three times that of those who do not suffer from it.
Sleep Apnea is a Killer
The New England Journal of Medicine published a study indicating that the incidence of heart attack and stroke was 50% greater in the study subjects who had sleep apnea. Millions of people have sleep related breathing disorders and 82-98% of adults with these disorders are undiagnosed. There are thousands of people here in Butte County who are undiagnosed and have no idea what they may be facing in the future. Sleep apnea is associated with:
- Excessive Daytime Sleepiness
- Cognitive impairment
- High blood pressure
- Heart attack
- Pulmonary hypertension
- Two-to seven-fold increased risk of motor vehicle accidents.
A CPAP Isn’t the Only Treatment Option
Reggie knew he had sleep apnea. He had a CPAP (constant positive airway pressure) machine. It is the gold standard for treating sleep apnea. It inserts low pressure air into the airway to ‘inflate’ it so that it doesn’t collapse while asleep, causing stoppage of breathing. But, Reggie couldn’t use his CPAP because of a severe feeling of claustrophobia while wearing it. When he died, his CPAP machine was in the closet. He did not know that alternative treatments were available. For those who are unable to tolerate CPAP devices, for whatever reasons, an oral appliance may be a life saver. Reggie’s wife, Sara, co-founder of the Reggie White Sleep Disorders Foundation, says she is convinced that, had Reggie known about these oral appliances for sleep apnea, he might still be alive today. We all have responsibilities to others in life: our spouses, our children, other family and friends, our dependents, our employers or employees, and co-workers. We owe it to them to do our utmost to stay alive and perform well. Personally, I have worn an oral appliance for over 30 years. It vastly improves the quality of sleep (and life) for me.
If you are a snorer and have daytime sleepiness issues, or if someone has noticed that you have pauses in breathing, or choking and gasping while asleep, you may have a serious medical problem that can be corrected quite easily. Many women have poor sleep issues due to a snoring spouse. They may have the same symptoms (daytime sleepiness, irritability, mood changes) as the snorer, due to being kept awake at night. Reggie White’s death may have been preventable. Northstate Sleep Therapy can provide more information.