Thursday, June 9, 2011

Andy Irons autopsy report

Read the New York Times story on Andy's death here.



We have received the final autopsy and toxicology report filed in connection with Andy’s death on November 2nd, 2010, from the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office in Forth Worth, TX.

The family apologizes for the delay in the release of this information. The injunction filed last December was to allow Andy’s widow, Lyndie, who was then eight months pregnant with Andy’s son, Andy Axel Irons, to give birth in peace. Please understand that this decision meant that the family did not learn the cause of Andy’s death until May 20th, and only after a second delay was requested by an attorney in Dallas, without the family’s knowledge or consent, to provide time for the 13-page toxicology report to be interpreted by two independent forensic experts – a process that took several weeks, but also enabled the family to fully come to terms with the unexpected root cause of Andy’s death.

The autopsy concludes that Andy died a natural death from a sudden cardiac arrest due to a severe blockage of a main artery of the heart. Dr. Vincent Di Maio, a prominent forensic pathologist in San Antonio, TX, who has consulted on many high-profile cases, was asked to review and explain the autopsy results to the family. He states: “This is a very straightforward case. Mr. Irons died of a heart attack due to focal severe coronary atherosclerosis, i.e., ‘hardening of the arteries.’ He had an atherosclerotic plaque producing 70%-80% narrowing of his anterior descending coronary artery.This is very severe narrowing. A plaque of this severity, located in the anterior descending coronary artery, is commonly associated with sudden death.”

Dr. Di Maio continues: “The only unusual aspect of the case is Mr. Irons’ age, 32 years old. Deaths due to coronary atherosclerosis usually begin to appear in the late 40′s. Individuals such as Mr. Irons have a genetic predisposition to early development of coronary artery disease. In about 25% of the population, the first symptom of severe coronary atherosclerosis is sudden death.” He concludes: “There were no other factors contributing to the death.”

Andy had a grandmother, 77, and a grand-uncle, 51, both on his father’s side, who died of congestive heart failure.Looking back, Lyndie recalls that Andy complained of chest pains and occasional intense heartburn for the first time last year, and also recalls a holistic health practitioner, whom he sought out in Australia for vitamin therapy,offhandedly mentioning he “had the heart of a 50-year-old.” In addition, Andy contracted Typhoid Fever five years ago, which can result in damage to the heart muscle.But Andy shrugged it all off and led no one to believe he was in ill health.

The official autopsy report, prepared by Tarrant County Chief Medical Examiner Nizam Peerwani, MD, lists a second cause of death as “acute mixed drug ingestion.” On this point, Dr. Peerwani and Dr. Di Maio diverge. In a letter sent to Arch McColl, a Dallas-based attorney acting on behalf of the family, Dr. Di Maio questioned Dr. Peerwani’s decision to list the finding “Acute Mixed Drug Ingestion” under “Cause of Death” because he believes “it was not the cause of death and did not contribute to the death. The Manner of Death is in fact labeled Natural.” Dr. Di Maio goes on to say that the drugs cited, Alprazolam (Xanax) and methadone (an analgesic drug commonly used in the treatment of chronic pain), are in “therapeutic levels” and notes that benzoylecgonine is an “inactive metabolite,” which Gary H. Wimbish Ph.D., DABFT, a forensic toxicologist consulted by the family, has explained is a breakdown product of cocaine. Wimbish states that the benzoylecgonine present in Andy’s blood at 50 ng/ml “is consistent with the use of cocaine at about 30 hours prior to his death.” In addition, Wimbish agrees with Dr. Di Maio that that the amount of Alprazolam present in Andy’s blood “is consistent with a common therapeutic regimen.”

Dr. Peerwani’s report also cites the presence of a trace amount of methamphetamine. Lyndie insists Andy was not a methamphetamine user, so it is likely the substance was present in the cocaine he ingested. But again, Dr. Di Maio believes that none of these drugs was the cause of, or contributed to, Andy’s death.

As we are not doctors, we have no choice but to accept that two respected pathologists have come to different conclusions about a secondary contributing cause of death. However, the family would like to address the findings of prescription and non-prescription drugs in Andy’s system. Andy was prescribed Xanax and Zolpidem (Ambien) to treat anxiety and occasional insomnia – a result of a bipolar disorder diagnosed by his family doctor at age 18. This is when Andy first began experiencing episodes of manic highs and depressive lows. The family believes Andy was in some denial about the severity of his chemical imbalance and tended to blame his mood swings on himself and his own weaknesses, choosing to self-medicate with recreational drugs. Members of his family, close friends, and an industry sponsor intervened over the years to help Andy get clean, but the effort to find balance in his life was certainly complicated by his chemical makeup.

Finally,as has been reported, Andy was suffering from severe flu-like symptoms while in Puerto Rico to compete in the Rip Curl Pro Search leg of the ASP World Tour just days prior to his death. Andy was unable to leave his bed and for the first time in his Pro career, withdrew from a contest. He was put on an intravenous drip for hydration and strongly advised to seek further medical treatment. Against doctor’s advice, Andy left for Kauai, Hawaii, to be with his wife, telling the doctor: “I just wanna go home.”

Though Andy’s illness is not addressed in the autopsy (which only tested for and ruled out suspected Dengue Fever), Andy’s weakened condition clearly contributed to the tragic circumstances of his death, adding more stress to an already gravely compromised heart.

Having defied the odds so many times before, Andy may have felt that getting on a plane while dehydrated and wracked with fever, and choosing to meet up with acquaintances during a short layover in Miami, was nothing out of the ordinary. His strong-willed personality was part of what made him such a formidable surfer and champion. Like others who face down extreme danger, Andy seemed to feel bulletproof – as if nothing could take him down.But traveling while sick and suffering from an undiagnosed heart condition, was more than even Andy could overcome.

We are hoping that people will remember Andy for his very full life, which included his intense passion for surfing and the ocean, his astonishing achievements as a world-class athlete, and his devotion to the family and friends who love him dearly and miss him every day. Receiving the disturbing news about the cause of death brings back the shock and tremendous grief we first felt upon receiving word that Andy had passed.

We would like to thank everyone for their condolences and support over the last seven months. There was so much positivity in Andy’s professional and personal life, not least of which was how hard he worked to overcome his challenges. For this we remain forever proud of him.

This continues to be a very difficult time for our family and we appreciate the media’s respect for our privacy. We are grateful for the outpouring of love and support and will not have any immediate comment beyond this statement.

For those who wish to honor Andy’s memory, we ask that they consider making a donation to the Surfrider Foundation, a charity Andy supported, at

–The Irons Family

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Review of Surfer's Code by Shaun Tomson

Self-help titles have littered our bookstores like piles of e-waste. Too many people want to gift wrap their singular transformative moment into a remedy for the cold-hearted human condition. We know what they’re really after: the green stuff and perhaps acknowledgment of their inner awesomeness.

But now along comes world-famous surfer Shaun Tomson with motives as pure as the translucent waves he mastered at Jeffreys Bay in his native South Africa.

“Surfer's Code, 12 Simple Lessons for Riding Through Life,” written with Patrick Moser, is a masterful work. It takes bits and pieces of Tomson’s well-traveled life and uses them to provide wisdom and reflection for the soul. Nothing preachy here. These are little gifts dispensed proportionally through time and space as if the reader were joining the author on one of his surfing adventures.

As a journalist I covered Tomson when he was a world champion in the 1970s and one of the most thoughtful elite athletes I’ve ever met. (Read a Los Angeles Times profile on Tomson here).

If Kelly Slater is the Michael Jordan of surfing then Tomson is the Magic Johnson/Larry Bird. His influence on the current professional tour cannot be underestimated.

As a result, Tomson could have followed familiar paths of celebrity by writing a revealing memoir. It would have been a worthy vehicle for an influential athlete, successful surf industry businessman and poet/philosopher.

And while the narrative elements highlight Surfer's Code, Tomson is striving for something more. He isn’t interested in recounting glory days, settling scores or any other kind of self-aggrandizement.

“Surfer's Code” simply celebrates life’s treasures. It’s something every surfer can understand with the ease of dropping into a right-breaking shoulder at Rincon, Tomson’s adopted home wave just south of Santa Barbara, Calif.

What I love most about the book is the plain-speaking prose that perfectly describes the essence of surfing. It gets to the emotional truth of the sport in easily digestible language that the landlocked could appreciate. The writing takes readers beyond the superficial explorations they might have gleaned from watching “The Endless Summer” or other popular movies glorifying surfing.

Tomson shows readers why the sport matters to its practitioners as he and Moser underline just a handful of memorable moments in the surfer’s career.

It’s not a varnished view, either. Tomson, 55, probes the depths of human emotions in the face of a cruel physical world. It never becomes sentimental or syrupy, not even as he delves into his most vulnerable rides because intuitively Tomson realizes the most powerful lessons come in the harsh light of adversity. A surfer who challenged the world’s fiercest waves doesn’t hide behind machismo.

Tomson saves the most devastating experience for an epilogue. It’s the unimaginable tale of the loss of a 15-year-old son who accidentally died while playing a “hanging” game at his school in South Africa just a few hours after talking to his dad by telephone. Tomson somehow remembers one of his dozen lessons: I will always paddle back out.

Instead of becoming a victim, he takes great care to avoid being mawkish and thus turn the book into another prosaic self-help guide. Surfing has taught one of its most honored disciples the meaning of profundity.

Surfer's Code is the end result, a worthy contribution to contemporary life.