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Clues To Flo-Jo's Death

Florence Griffith Joyner, also known as 'Flo-Jo,' was the fastest woman in the world. She was a woman whose style and flair were as dramatic as her athletic ability. CBS News Correspondent John Roberts reports.

Though she was known to suffer from asthma and migraines, the sudden death of an athlete is such great physical condition came as a shock to her fans, and her family.

"There were just no signs that she was ill," said her brother-in-law Bob Kersee.

While the official cause of death has not yet been determined, Flo-Jo is described to have died from a 'heart seizure'. Unlike a heart attack, it's not caused by blocked arteries, but electrical disturbances in the heart that cause it to beat incredibly rapidly--to the point that it actually begins to flutter and can no longer pump blood.

"I would suspect hypertrophic cardiomyopathy as being the most likely probability here," says Dr. Jeremy Ruskin of Mass General Hospital.

Cardiologist Jeremy Ruskin was one of the team who advised Boston Celtic Reggie Lewis to quit playing basketball shortly before he died from abnormal rhythms caused by hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. He says one in 500 people have this genetically-inherited condition.

"The muscle of the main pumping chamber becomes abnormally thickened. And it predisposes the heart to abnormal rhythms," says Dr. Ruskin.

It's the same abnormality that took the life of college basketball star Hank Gathers in 1990 and in fact, is the No.1 cause of sudden death among young athletes.

The public wasn't aware that behind her glamorous face Flo-Jo may have had a serious heart problem. A seizure Flo-Jo had in 1996 was explained away as exhaustion. But now appears as a warning sign of another life about to be cut short.

Reported by CBS News Correspondent John Roberts
©1998, CBS Worldwide Inc., All Rights Reserved

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