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Football Player Dies After Shoulder Surgery; Brain Tumor Found

December 20, 1991

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Erik Bird, Lehigh University’s all-time top placekicker, went into the hospital for routine shoulder surgery. A day later he died.

Bird, 21, of Casselberry, Fla., suffered a brain seizure Thursday while recovering from surgery. He was pronounced dead at 7:35 p.m., according to Phyllis Fischer of Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia.

Lehigh spokeswoman Rita Malone said doctors have not established a connection between the seizure and the surgery performed by the team physician, Dr. Emil J. DiIorio.

″They are saying it’s not connected; it could have happened any place or any time,″ she said.

Bird went in for surgery Wednesday at Muhlenberg Hospital Center in Bethlehem to repair damage to his shoulder, which was dislocated two years ago during a game, Malone said.

He was recovering normally from the surgery until about 1:30 a.m. Thursday, when he suffered a brain seizure, and a CAT scan revealed a large brain tumor, Malone said.

Bird was flown by helicopter 50 miles to Hahnemann, arriving at 6 a.m. in critical condition, Fischer said.

″This will be a devastating experience for many of our students,″ said Lehigh athletic director Joseph Sterrett. ″The whole athletic department is in shock from the news. ... He was a great kid.″

″Erik was a class act both on and off the field,″ said coach Hank Small.

Small, Sterrett, DiIorio and Jack Foley, director of Lehigh’s sports medicine department, kept vigil at Hahnemann with Bird’s father. Peter Bird, wearing a Leigh sweatshirt, sat waiting during the day and evening while Erik remained on life support, undergoing tests to determine if any activity remained in his brain.

The family gave doctors permission to use his organs for transplants to help others.

Back at Lehigh in Bethlehem, members of the coaching staff and the dean of students office spent Thursday calling Bird’s teammates and Delta Upsilon fraternity brothers to tell them about his seizure. Final examinations ended Thursday and most students had left campus for the holidays.

Bird, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering, holds the Lehigh career records for extra points, 135, and kicking, 225 points.

Bird, a four-year starter, is third on the all-time list for field goals with 30 and fifth in overall team scoring with 225 points.

In the 1991 season he completed 26 of 31 extra points and six of 10 field goals.

Although ambidextrous, he usually kicked with the right foot. His longest field goal was 47 yards, against Dartmouth this year.

Bird is also survived by his mother, Denise, and four siblings: David, 23; Matthew, 18; Nathan, 16; and Christine, 11.

A funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Maitland Presbyterian Church in Maitland, a suburb of Orlando, Fla.

A memorial service will be held at Lehigh in January when students return for the spring semester, Malone said.

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