‘Medical anomaly’ – not alcohol – found as cause of FGCU student’s death


Diagram of pulmonary edema vs. normal.
Diagram of pulmonary edema vs. normal.

A family friend confirms that alcohol played no role in the death of Florida Gulf Coast University freshman Austin Vonckx, who died after a distress call to his South Village dorm in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Julie Escobar, a family friend of Vonckx, provided further confirmation on Vonckx’s cause of death: that it was a result of a medical anomaly.
“After spending the day with friends, paddle boarding and playing football”, Escobar told Eagle News. “Something triggered in his heart in the early morning hours that caused his lungs to fill with fluid. The doctors called it pulmonary edema – with a possible embolism.”
Doctors said that it happened instantaneously while on the phone with his mom. During the phone call, Vonckx was telling her about his day with his friends, when he collapsed.
The Mayo Clinic describes pulmonary edema as a condition caused by excess fluid in the lungs. Fluid collected in the numerous air sacs in the lungs, can make breathing difficult for the person affected. Pulmonary embolism occurs when one or more pulmonary arteries in your lungs become blocked which is usually caused by blood clots that travel to the lungs from the legs or rarely other parts of the body.
“We’d like people to know is that Austin died of a medical anomaly, that alcohol did not contribute to his death,” Escobar said. “It was one of those unpredictable things.”
Close to 100 people attended Vonckx’s candlelight vigil night held outside South Village, FGCU’s freshman housing community.
“We’re overwhelmed with blessings to count from the countless folks that have reached out,” Escobar said.
There is now a memorial page set up for Vonckx where people can stay updated: https://www.facebook.com/AustinVMemorial. The family hopes to have pictures posted here by his friends during his time in college.
In sight of the tragedy, Vonckx’s family tries to see the positive side of things.
“If we can take an upside, we can tell you that he was an organ donor,” Escobar said. Organdonor.gov reports that organ donors can save up to eight lives through organ donation and enhance many others through tissue donation.
“For all those that knew him and loved him, he’s enriched our lives his whole life and will continue to,” Escobar said.
While searching for photos for his memorial, members of the Vonckx family came across an old video. None of his family members had ever seen it, but were touched by it and encourage people to watch it. The video shows 12-year-old Vonckx singing “Where I Get Where I’m Going” by country music singer, Brad Paisley.
The video can be found here. Vonckx’ family added that “he was not a country music fan” and the video is “even more of a sign to them the he’s all right and at peace.”
The Vonckx family also set up a charity in Vonckx’s name. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made in his memory to FGCU Foundation, 10501 FGCU Blvd. South, Fort Myers, FL 33965 (direct questions to Judi Cassidy @ 239-590-1067).
On Sept. 23, Eagle News obtained the 911 recorded dispatch call from Pasco County to Lee county. In the call, a Pasco dispatcher tells Lee County Sheriff’s Office that Vonckx’s mother reported she was on the phone with her son when he collapsed and the phone went dead. Vonckx’s mother believed it was due to a medical issue but her son had mentioned he had a few shots of Southern Comfort previously and did not feel well.
Kelli Krebs contributed to this report.