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Sioux Falls coroner: Minn. college freshman died of heart disease on flight home

Griffin Gutwa, 18, of Burnsville, died in his sleep while flying home for the holidays. (Courtesy photo)

SIOUX FALLS, S.D.—An autopsy revealed that heart disease killed the 18-year-old college student from Burnsville who died while on a plane trip home from San Diego during his Christmas break.

Griffin Gutwa died Dec. 22 of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy with myocardial fibrosis, Dr. Kenneth Snell, director of the Minnehaha County Coroner's Office in Sioux Falls, S.D., said on Thursday.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy involves a thickened or enlarged heart and often goes undiagnosed because many people with the disease have few — if any — symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is usually inherited.

The autopsy, which was conducted at the Sanford University of South Dakota Medical Center, also showed that Gutwa had a strain of influenza virus called A/H3; however, it is not considered a cause or contributing factor of his death, the coroner's office said.

Gutwa reportedly fell asleep about an hour into the Delta Air Lines flight to Minneapolis-St. Paul. A passenger next to him became concerned when his breathing changed, and a flight attendant who checked on him realized something was wrong and asked for a medical professional to help.

Gutwa was not breathing, so the professional began CPR and the pilot began looking for a place to make an emergency landing. The nearest airport was in Sioux Falls.

Paramedics met the plane at the airport, but they were unable to revive Gutwa.

Gutwa was a graduate of Burnsville High School and oldest of four children. He was the first to attend college since the family immigrated to the United States from Kenya in 2004. He was a freshman at the University of San Diego, studying to be a doctor.

A GoFundMe account has been set up for the family at https://www.gofundme.com/griffin-gutwa.

Gutwa, who was known as "Babu" to many, was "the most kind-hearted person you'd ever meet and he brought joy to everyone around him," the online account reads.

A funeral will be held from 3 to 6 p.m. Sunday at Southview Seventh-day Adventist Church in Minneapolis.

Deanna Weniger contributed to this report.

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