At the time of his death at age 28 in 1995, Russian Sergei Grinkov was at the top of his career in figure skating. He and his wife, Ekaterina Gordeeva, had won four world doubles figure skating championships and were the Olympic champions in 1988 and 1994.
While skating during a practice session in Lake Placid on November 20, 1995, Grinkov became light-headed, slumped to the ice, and then lost consciousness. His coach recognized the urgency of the situation and provided CPR almost immediately. EMS personnel arrived within minutes and inserted a breathing tube. But despite their efforts for more than an hour, Grinkov never regained a heartbeat and died later at the Adirondack Medical Center.
An autopsy showed extensive coronary artery disease (CAD), with nearly occlusive blockages affecting two of the three main coronary arteries. Moreover, there was significant enlargement of the heart. The pathologist concluded that Grinkov had suffered from an acute myocardial infarction, seemingly unrecognized, sometime during the 24 hours preceding his death and then suffered a fatal arrhythmia at the ice rink.
Grinkov’s death was obviously unexpected. In retrospect, it was learned that Grinkov had long-standing, untreated high blood pressure, with typical diastolic blood pressure measurements of more than 110 mm Hg. This was thought to contribute to the marked enlargement of his heart. According to reports, though, the high blood pressure measurements had often been attributed simply to “nerves.”
It also turns out that Grinkov’s father, Mikhail Grinkov, died at age 52 after his fourth heart attack. But like Sergei, his father had none of the typical risk factors for CAD. These unusual facts caught the attention of Johns Hopkins cardiologist, Pascal Goldschmidt, MD, who was able to study a sample of Grinkov’s blood and find through DNA analysis that he carried a variant of a platelet antigen gene that we now know as PLA-2 or the Grinkov factor. That variant, present in about 20% of the general population, is now known to be associated with both heart attack and stroke at an earlier age than the general population.