Grant Wahl, the American soccer reporter who collapsed and died while covering the World Cup in Qatar last week, died of a ruptured aortic aneurysm, his wife, Dr. Celine Gounder, said Wednesday.
“It’s just one of these things that has probably been brewing for years, and for whatever reason it’s happening right now,” Gounder said on “CBS Mornings.”
In a longer statement, Gounder said an autopsy performed by the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office determined he died of an “undetected slow-growing ascending aortic aneurysm with hemopericardium.
“The chest pressure he experienced shortly before his death may have accounted for the initial symptoms. No amount of CPR or shock was going to save him,” he said.
Wahl, a longtime college basketball and soccer reporter for Sports Illustrated and his own newsletter, collapsed while covering Friday’s Argentina-Netherlands game and was later pronounced dead. He was 49 years old.
He has covered soccer for more than two decades, including 11 World Cups – six men’s, five women’s – and has written several books on the sport, according to his website.
His body was returned to the United States on Monday for an autopsy, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an aortic aneurysm is a balloon-like bulge in the aorta, the large artery that carries blood from the heart to the chest. A rupture is caused when the force of the blood pumping can tear apart the layers of the artery wall, allowing blood to escape. If it ruptures, the aneurysm bursts completely, causing bleeding inside the body.
The CDC says aneurysms or aortic dissections caused about 10,000 deaths in 2019. About 59 percent of those deaths were among men.
CNN chief medical correspondent Dr Sanjay Gupta said an aortic aneurysm is generally rare and difficult to detect.
“It’s very difficult to screen for this type of problem,” she said. “This is probably something that had been there for some time but didn’t cause many symptoms.”
In the days before his death, Wahl said he didn’t feel well.
“He had gotten worse in terms of tightness in his chest, tightness, pressure. I feel pretty hairy, bad,” he told co-host Chris Wittyngham in an episode of the podcast Futbol with Grant Wahl released just days before his death. He added that he sought help at the World Cup media center clinic, believing he has bronchitis.
She further detailed the incident in a newsletter published Dec. 5, writing that her body “broke down” after little sleep, high stress and a heavy workload. She had had a cold for 10 days, which “turned into something more serious,” she wrote, adding that she felt better after receiving antibiotics and catching up on sleep.
The tributes to her late husband are touching and bring her comfort, Gounder said in her CBS interview.
“He was so loved by so many people,” she said, and feeling the outburst “is like a warm hug when you really need it.”
She said she learned something was wrong last week when she started seeing messages from a friend who said Wahl had passed out and medical personnel had attempted CPR for 20 minutes. She tried to trace someone at the hospital in Qatar to find out more and kept asking if he had a pulse.
“Nobody would answer the question,” he said. “I was scared.”
She also said she went to see her late husband’s body; “I really needed to see,” she said.
“Honestly, it was so surreal… even now that I’ve seen the body it’s really hard to believe it’s real, but I just needed it,” she said.
While she wasn’t a huge sports fan, she said for Wahl, “Football was more than just a sport, it was this thing that connected people all over the world.”
“There is so much about the culture, the politics of sport, football. It was a way for him to really understand people and where they came from,” she said. “I want people to remember him as a kind and generous person who was really dedicated to social justice.”
She recalled how her husband promoted the women’s game and the recent statements he’s made about LGBT rights. “That was Grant,” she said.