Sleep apnea a factor in former pro football player's death

May 15, 2006
Reggie White, who played for the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers, reportedly died from causes related to sleep apnea.

DALLAS--Reggie White, a fearsome defensive end for the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers and was one of the greatest players in NFL history, reportedly died from causes related to sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a condition that causes people to stop breathing repeatedly -- in some cases, hundreds of times -- during their sleep. Sleep apnea is a very common disorder and affects more than 50 million Americans. By the end of the decade, it is expected to affect one in every five adults.

"Shockingly, 95 percent of the population that suffers from sleep apnea is unaware that they are afflicted," said Dr. Bruce B. Baird, a dentist and founder of the Dental Organization for Sleep Apnea (DOSA).

DOSA was formed to improve the quality and duration of life for those suffering from sleep breathing disorders.

"With proper diagnosis and treatment, Reggie's death could have been prevented," said Sara White, National Spokesperson for DOSA and White's widow. Reggie White, the minister of defense for the Green Bay Packers from 1993 to 1998, died at age 43 on Dec. 26, 2004.

"Sleep is extremely fragmented and of poor quality for those individuals who are afflicted," explains Dr. Baird. Risk factors include snoring, obesity or large neck circumference, and history of hypertension.

Yet because of the lack of awareness by the public and health-care professionals, the vast majority of cases remain undiagnosed and therefore untreated, despite the fact that this serious disorder can have significant consequences, including death, as in Reggie White's case, explains Dr. Kent Smith co-director of DOSA.

Untreated, sleep apnea can cause many serious health problems including high blood pressure and other cardiovascular disease, headaches, memory problems, weight gain, increased risk of stroke and diabetes, gastric reflux and impotency. It also can cause excessive sleepiness during the daytime.

"Sleep apnea has even been linked to ADD and ADHD in children," stated Dr. Smith.

Fortunately, the disorder can be diagnosed and treated. Several treatment options exist, including Oral Appliance Therapy, a device which is prescribed and fitted by dentists. DOSA is aggressively continuing its research into additional options.

"A 43-year-old is not supposed to die in his sleep," said Keith Johnson, spokesman for the White family. "It was not only unexpected, but it was also a complete surprise. Reggie wasn't a sick man ... he was vibrant. He had lots and lots of energy, lots of passion."

Reggie had tried conventional therapy to treat sleep apnea, which consists of wearing a facemask that delivers oxygen to the patient during the night.

"Reggie was unable to wear the facemask because he was claustrophobic," explained Sara White.

Although considered one of the best treatments for obstructive sleep apnea, many patients (up to 87% in some studies) are unable to wear the facemask. Oral appliances, such as those prescribed by dentists, can be used for those who are mask-intolerant.

They also can be used as a first-line therapy in treating mild-to-moderate obstructive sleep apnea, according to updated guidelines from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

"If Reggie would have known about oral appliances he might still be alive today," sayid Sara White.

For more information on sleep apnea or DOSA, call (888) 285-3244 or visit