Cardiologist: Heart issue ending UF player’s season is rare condition

Report: Forward Keyontae Johnson diagnosed with acute myocarditis after collapse during game

VIDEO: University of Florida basketball player Keyontae Johnson was diagnosed with acute myocarditis after collapsing mid-game. The forward isn't expected to return this season.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – After a Gainesville Sun report revealed that University of Florida forward Keyontae Johnson was diagnosed with acute myocarditis, or heart inflammation, following a stunning collapse during the FSU game, a Memorial Hospital cardiologist explained that the heart condition is rare.

Dr. John-Paul Pham, an interventional cardiologist with Memorial Hospital in Jacksonville, said myocarditis affects thousands of Americans each year and 3 to 4 million patients worldwide and can cause cardiac dysfunction and rhythm disturbances.

“Most patients present symptoms that are very similar to a heart attack such as chest pain, shortness of breath, palpitation, sweating, passing out,” Pham said. “It is almost always from a viral illness.”

Johnson was released from the hospital this week, 10 days after he crumpled to the floor coming out of a timeout on Dec. 12 at Florida State.

Johnson was moved to a stretcher and carried to a waiting ambulance as teammates, coaches, staff, fans and others watched in disbelief. He spent two nights at Tallahassee Memorial before being transferred to UF Health Gainesville via helicopter with his mother by his side.

A source told the Sun that Johnson was diagnosed with acute myocarditis, or heart inflammation, after an MRI at UF Health in Gainesville.

Like many of his Florida teammates, Johnson tested positive for COVID-19 during the summer, and many are wondering if Johnson’s myocarditis diagnosis could be linked to his bout with the virus.

Pham said it’s definitely possible.

“There were certain reports as well as observation studies back in August that had reported some athletes were getting myocarditis post-COVID-19 infection and because of this report, this was the tipping point why the Big Ten and the PAC-12 decided to postpone their college football seasons,” Pham said. “It is still very early, and I don’t believe we have enough long-term data so far to say much about long-term effects of the coronavirus. We know that it seems like the coronavirus is laying dormant in the heart, because these patients are -- after infection -- they’re getting post-infection myocarditis, so this is something that is a delayed reaction really.”

Pham said the good news is that most patients who develop myocarditis recover very well and do not have any long-term effects.

The Sun reported that Johnson is expected to miss at least three months, which means he’s likely out for the remainder of the season.

Johnson’s family had said it will share “any information we think could help others” regarding the cause and extent of Johnson’s illness.

UF released a statement from Johnson’s family Tuesday saying, “We continue to be amazed at the pace of his recovery and look forward to spending Christmas together as a family.”

“As much as everyone involved wants firm answers, the process to draw definitive conclusions continues, and we ask for patience as the medical professionals continue their work,” the family said.

The SEC mandates strict protocols, including rigorous heart testing, before players can be cleared to return to play following positive COVID-19 tests.

Florida has postponed four basketball games since Johnson’s collapse. The team is next scheduled to next play on Dec. 30 at Vanderbilt in the SEC opener for both schools.

About the Authors:

A Jacksonville native and proud University of North Florida alum, Francine Frazier has been with News4Jax since 2014 after spending nine years at The Florida Times-Union.