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, on Wednesday.
“It’s just one of those things that’s probably been brewing for years, and for whatever reason it happened at this point,” Gounder said on “CBS Mornings.”
In a lengthy statement, Gounder said an autopsy performed by the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office found he died of a “slow-growing, undetected ascending aortic aneurysm with hemopericardium.
“The chest pressure he felt just before his death may have been the first symptoms. No resuscitation or shock would have saved him,” she said.
Wahl, a longtime college basketball and football reporter for Sports Illustrated and for his own newsletter, collapsed while covering Friday’s game between Argentina and the Netherlands and was later pronounced dead. He was 49.
He has covered football for more than two decades, including 11 World Cups – six men, five women – and has authored several books on the sport, according to his website.
His body was returned to the United States for an autopsy on Monday, 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 pumping blood can rupture the layers of the arterial wall, allowing blood to leak out. When it ruptures, the aneurysm ruptures completely, causing internal bleeding.
The CDC says aortic aneurysms or dissections caused about 10,000 deaths in 2019. About 59% of these deaths were in men.
CNN’s senior medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta said an aortic aneurysm is generally rare and difficult to detect.
“It’s very difficult to look for problems of this type,” he said. “It’s probably something that’s been there for a while but isn’t causing a lot of symptoms.”
In the days leading up to his death, Wahl said he was unwell.
“It had gotten pretty bad in terms of tightness in my chest, tightness, pressure. I’m feeling pretty hairy, bad,” he told co-host Chris Wittyngham on an episode of the podcast Futbol with Grant Wahl released days before his death. He added that he sought help at the World Cup media center clinic because he thought he had bronchitis.
He further described the incident in a newsletter published December 5, writing that his body “collapsed” after experiencing little sleep, high stress and a heavy workload. He had a cold for 10 days that “turned into something more severe,” he wrote, adding that he’s feeling better after receiving antibiotics and catching up on sleep.
Paying tribute to her late husband is touching and comforting, Gounder said in her interview with CBS.
“He was so loved by so many people,” she said, and hearing the outpouring “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 collapsed and medical staff spent 20 minutes attempting CPR. She tried to track down someone in the hospital in Qatar to find out more and kept asking if they had a pulse.
“No one would answer the question,” she said. “I was scared.”
She also said she went to see the body of her late husband; “I just had to see it,” she said.
“Honestly, that was so surreal … even now that I’ve seen the body, it’s really hard to believe it’s real, but I just needed that,” she said.
Though she wasn’t a huge sports fan, she said for Wahl, “Football was more than just a sport, it was that thing that connected people around the world.”
“There is so much about the culture, the politics of sport, of football. For him, it was a way to really understand people and where they came from,” she said. “I want people to remember him as this kind, generous person who really championed social justice.”
She recalled how her husband promoted women’s football and recalled recent comments he had made on LGBT rights. “That was Grant,” she said.