Nancy Kerrigan’s father’s death ruled a homicide

Olympic figure skater Nancy Kerrigan’s father, Daniel Kerrigan, died January 24th by what an autopsy is now calling a homicide. Kerrigan was found unresponsive at his Stoneham, MA home. Earlier, he had had an altercation with his son, Mark, who is currently being held for assault and battery. According to the Middlesex District Attorney’s office: “The Medical Examiner determined that the cause of death was cardiac dysrhythmia following a physical altercation with neck compression causing injury to the neck in the form of a cartilage fracture to the larynx area, in a person with hypertensive and atherosclerotic cardiovascular heart disease.” It also stated: “The corresponding manner of death has been ruled a homicide.”

The Kerrigan family’s attorney released a statement that “The Kerrigan family is extremely disappointed that the medical examiner would release a cause of death without having all of the relevant facts. We believe this finding to be premature and inaccurate.”

The larynx, or voice box, lies at the top of the windpipe (trachea), just below where the back of the throat (pharynx) splits into the trachea and the esophagus (the tube between the throat and stomach). The laryngeal skeleton consists of nine cartilages: three single (thyroid, cricoid, and epiglottic) and three paired (arytenoid, corniculate, and cuneiform). The vocal cords are two folds of smooth muscle within the larynx. Air passing from the lungs larynx causes the vocal cords to vibrate and produce sound.

A laryngeal fracture can occur following direct trauma to the neck region and may lead to life-threatening airway obstruction. A laryngeal fracture is a rare condition, occurring in approximately 1 per 137,000 inpatient visits. The rarity of this condition is likely due to the protected location of the larynx, with the rigid neck spine behind and the jaw in front and above it. Overall, males (77% vs 33%) tend to present with the highest percentage of traumatic laryngeal injuries, likely secondary to greater participation in violent sports and other activities such as fighting. A predisposition to comminuted fractures (a fracture with multiple pieces) in older persons is attributed to calcification which makes the cartilage more brittle.

Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.

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