Autopsy: Tackle football caused teen player's fatal injury

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Carlos Sanchez (Source: 3TV/CBS 5 News) Carlos Sanchez (Source: 3TV/CBS 5 News)
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

The injury that killed a Moon Valley High School football player in October was “blunt force trauma to the head while playing high school tackle football,” according to Maricopa County Medical Examiner William T. Stano III.

Arizona’s Family obtained the report on the death of Carlos Sanchez Thursday.

Sanchez, a 16-year-old starting linebacker for the Moon Valley Rockets, collapsed on the field during a game on Oct. 20. He died the next day.

[ORIGINAL STORY: Moon Valley HS football player dies after collapsing on field]

[RAW VIDEO: Moon Valley football coach statement about player death]

"He was a constant force of hard work and selflessness on our team," Moon Valley Coach Seth Millican said in a tearful statement shortly after it happened. "My team is full of young men who will go out into the world and treat people in a better way because of Carlos's influence."

[RELATED: Phoenix firefighters reflect on treating football player]

The M.E.'s office had already confirmed blunt force trauma to the head as the cause of Sanchez's death, but at the time, there was no indication of how the injury occurred.

The newly obtained autopsy report states it unequivocally -- "blunt force to the head while playing high school tackle football."

"The cranial vault has acute and diffuse subdural hemorrhage over the entirety of the left cerebral hemisphere," according to the "evidence of injury" section of the report.

"The bleeding in a subdural hematoma is under the skull and outside the brain, not in the brain itself," explains WebMD. "As blood accumulates, however, pressure on the brain increases. The pressure on the brain causes a subdural hematoma's symptoms. If pressure inside the skull rises to [a] very high level, a subdural hematoma can lead to unconsciousness and death."

Medical experts say most acute subdural hematomas -- like the one Sanchez had -- are less than 72 hours old.

The bleeding is from blood vessels that run along the surface of the brain. A sudden blow to the head -- be it from a fall, a car crash, a football tackle or a number of other causes -- can tear those blood vessels.

The report that definitively ties Sanchez's death to tackle football will likely fuel the ongoing debate about the potential dangers of youth and high school sports, not just in terms of acute injuries but also with regard to the long-term effects of repeated relatively minor injuries.

[READ MORE: Concussion study reveals most Valley parents will let kids play football]

[RELATED: First blood test to help diagnose brain injuries gets US OK]

[RELATED: Nearly 1 in 3 Arizona student-athletes suffered concussion by senior year, survey finds (Aug. 26, 2016)]

Arizona's Family reporter Maria Hechanova reached out the Arizona Interscholastic Association about what changes might be made in the wake of the autopsy report on Sanchez.

"The AIA must remain consistent with the NFHS [Natinoal Federal of State High School Associations], which is the governing body for high school athletics," Seth Polansky replied via email. "If rules changes occur, they must occur from the national level. Recommendations can be made to the NFHS, and the NFHS in turn can adopt that rule. The football rule requiring a player sit out one play if the helmet comes off was originated in Arizona and then adopted nationally. And just within the last two weeks the football rules committee came up with a new rule requiring a player to sit out for at least one play if it (is) discovered he or she is playing with improper equipment."

The Moon Valley Parent Boosters set up a GoFundMe account for the Sanchez family. Contributors include not only individual and families, but also PTOs, booster clubs and sports teams from other Valley schools. That account is still open and accepting donations.

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