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DOWNEY - Nearly three months after the Downey community rallied around 16-year-old Dodi Soza, the Downey High School football player who died two days after collapsing on the football field last October, the Los Angeles County Coroner has determined his death was caused by natural cardiac failure.
In an autopsy report released by the coroner's office this month, medical examiners list Soza's primary causes of death as a sudden cardiac event and anoxic encephalopathy, a shortage of oxygen to the brain.
Contrary to numerous reports that Soza was injured during the Oct. 10 junior varsity game against Lynwood High School, the report concludes that his cause of death was natural.
Kelsey Soza, Dodi's older sister, says shortly before his death, her brother was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a cardiac disorder that impedes blood flow out of the heart and can sometimes cause sudden death in young athletes.
News of the disorder came as a shock to members of Dodi's family, Kelsey said Tuesday.
"If we would've known, he wouldn't have been able to play sports," Kelsey Soza said. "Dodi was born with an enlarged heart and walls that were thicker. When he worked out, there wasn't enough blood flowing through his body."
Soza said doctors told her family that hypertrophic cardiomyopathy often carries no symptoms and is hard to detect in patients, but the effects can turn fatal for active young men between the ages of 15-22.
"This could've happened while he was sleeping, eating, or watching TV. It's one of those rare diseases with no symptoms, no medications," she said.
"Maybe it was something that was destined to happen. But it makes us more aware of our health, to be more cautious and make sure my younger brothers get tested."
Soza, a running back, collapsed after scoring a touchdown against Lynwood High School last October. He was immediately transported to St. Francis Medical Center, but later transferred to Miller Children's Hospital in Long Beach where he died surrounded by family members.
Soza's passing garnered much media attention, galvanizing classmates and community members who gathered outside the Downey High School campus to celebrate Soza's life with chants, stories, white candles and balloons.
Kelsey Soza, 22, says all the attention came as a surprise to the family who didn't realize how beloved Dodi was at the school.
"We were shocked to see the support from friends, the school, and the community," she said. "The entire football season, both JV and varsity teams at Downey High School, were dedicated to Dodi -- it really helped my mom to see that."