Twin Cities teen who died on flight home from college had undiagnosed heart condition

Former MN high school student Griffin Gutwa was just 18 years old.
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The Twin Cities teenager who tragically passed away on a flight home for Christmas died from heart disease.

The coroner's office in Minnehaha County, South Dakota, ruled that 18-year-old Griffin Gutwa, of Burnsville, died as a result of a heart condition that often goes undiagnosed, the Pioneer Press reports.

Called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy with myocardial fibrosis, it causes the heart to thicken or be enlarged, and often presents with few or no symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic.

It's usually an inherited condition, the hospital system says, and can lead to shortness of breath, chest pain and problems in the heart's electrical system that can cause "life-threatening abnormal heart rhythms," known as arrhythmias.

Fellow passengers noticed Gutwa had fallen asleep on the flight home and was then observed gasping for breath.

The teenager, known affectionately as "Babu," was returning from the University of San Diego on Dec. 21 when he died.

The former Burnsville High School student had hoped to eventually study medicine and become a neuro-surgeon. 

Half a million Americans have this condition

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is the second most common heart muscle condition, with as many as 500,000 Americans believed to suffer from it.

It can affect men and women equally, of any age, the American Heart Association notes.

Those who have it mostly present no or mild symptoms, and it can range in severity with most able to lead normal lives without significant problems.

A small number, though, can suffer complications including shortness of breath, chest pain and limited ability to exercise.

In even rarer cases, it can lead to more severe conditions such as heart failure and the arrhythmias mentioned above, which can result in cardiac arrest.

The American Journal of Cardiology reports that just 1 percent of cases of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy leads to death.

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