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Father reveals Roswell High star quarterback's cause of death

Robbie Roper died in December 2021. At the time, his family didn't reveal his cause of death.

ROSWELL, Ga. — Months after a Roswell High School star quarterback suddenly died, his father has shed light on the athlete's cause of death.

Robbie Roper was 18 years old when he died in December 2021. At the time, his high school football coach, Chris Prewett, told 11Alive the athlete had recently undergone a successful routine surgery when his health "took a turn for the worse." 

However, Roper's family consistently claimed his surgery had nothing to do with his death. 

Roper's story caught national attention, with well-known college coaches, players and and even NFL teams offering their prayers, yet the family still had not revealed what happened to him.

This week, James Roper finally cleared the air, disclosing to USA Today Sports that his son died from a rare hereditary condition called urea cycle disorder.

Dr. Sujatha Reddy, 11Alive Medical Correspondent, said babies who are born with the disorder are missing an enzyme that allows their body to remove waste products from food that most people can eliminate. The waste build-up can eventually impact different organs, including the brain, and in some cases can lead to death.

"Sometimes these symptoms don't show up for months or even years because it can take that long if it's a subtle type of condition for the buildup to really start to affect the child. And you may see things like nausea, loss of appetite, they may have behavioral changes," Reddy said. "The symptoms can be very subtle."

The condition is uncommon, only impacting around one in 30,000 people, Reddy explained. 

According to Reddy, people who have urea cycle disorder may need supplements of amino acids and are typically required to drink lots of fluid. They also may need to take medications, or in extreme cases, undergo dialysis to remove waste buildup like ammonia and nitrogen.

James told USA Today he and Robbie's mother took their son to a hospital after he randomly started vomiting, and his condition worsened. That hospital reportedly told the family he was on drugs. But when drug tests came back negative, additional tests showed Robbie's ammonia levels were nearly four times the normal amount. 

Robbie was eventually airlifted to a different hospital in Gainesville, Florida, where he was put on dialysis.

By then, it was too late. 

Robbie's family later shared the heartbreaking news that he died on Dec. 22, 2021.