Sailor’s medical background questioned after death

Julie Watson
Associated Press

San Diego — The drowning of a sailor who was repeatedly pushed underwater by an instructor during Navy SEAL basic training raises a host of questions, beginning perhaps with this: Why would a highly elite unit made up of some of the toughest, fittest warriors ever to wear a uniform take someone with an enlarged heart and maybe asthma or allergies?

An enlarged heart would not have shown up in the medical exams that sailors are routinely subjected to before they are accepted for SEAL basic training, said Dr. Kirk Parsley, a former SEAL who also served as the Navy doctor for West Coast SEALs until 2013.

Moreover, doctors say it is not uncommon for athletes to develop an enlarged heart from rigorous exercise, and the condition is usually benign.

The San Diego County medical examiner called Seaman James Derek Lovelace’s enlarged heart a contributing factor to his drowning death May 6 during a pool exercise in Coronado, California, near San Diego.

The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide after finding that the 21-year-old from Crestview, Florida, had been dunked at least twice by an instructor while struggling to tread water in full gear.

The autopsy also discovered Lovelace had an abnormal coronary artery.

Lovelace would have undergone a medical exam and physical fitness test before being allowed to take part in SEAL basic training, a six-month program so grueling that 75 percent of candidates drop out by the end of the first month.

It’s unclear from the autopsy report how much Lovelace’s heart abnormalities contributed to his death. But stress could have exacerbated his problem.