Grant Wahl, the American football journalist who collapsed and died while covering the World Cup in Qatar last week, died of a ruptured aortic aneurysm, said on Wednesday his wife, Dr. Celine Gounder.
“It’s just one of those things that’s probably been brewing for years, and for some reason it happened then,” Gounder said on “CBS Mornings.”
In a longer statement, Gounder said an autopsy performed by the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office determined that he died of “the rupture of a slowly growing and undetected ascending aortic aneurysm with hemopericardium.
“The chest pressure he experienced shortly before his death may have represented the first symptoms. No amount of CPR or shocks would have saved him,” she said, adding that there is no there was nothing “nefarious” in his death.
Wahl, a longtime college basketball and football 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 had covered football for more than two decades, including 11 World Cups – six men’s, five women’s – and wrote several books on the sport, according to his website.
His body was returned to the United States on Monday for autopsy, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an aortic aneurysm is a balloon-shaped bulge in the aorta – the large artery that carries blood from the heart to the chest. During a rupture, the aneurysm bursts completely, causing bleeding inside the body.
The CDC says aortic aneurysms or dissections caused about 10,000 deaths in 2019. About 59% of those deaths were in men.
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta said an aortic aneurysm is usually rare and difficult to spot.
“It’s very difficult to track down this kind of problem,” he said. “It’s probably something that had been there for a while but wasn’t causing a lot of symptoms.”
In the days leading up to his death, Wahl said he did not feel well.
“It had gotten pretty bad in terms of tightness in my chest, tightness, pressure. Feeling pretty hairy, bad,” he told co-host Chris Wittyngham in an episode of the Futbol podcast with Grant Wahl released days before his death. He added that he sought help from the World Cup media center clinic, thinking he had bronchitis.
He further described the incident in a news bulletin published on December 5, writing that his body “collapsed” after having little sleep, high stress and a heavy workload. He had had a cold for 10 days, which “turned into something more serious”, he wrote, adding that he was feeling better after being given antibiotics and catching up on sleep.
Tributes to her late husband are touching and heartwarming to her, 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 saying Wahl had collapsed and medical staff had attempted CPR for 20 minutes. . She tried to find someone in the hospital in Qatar to find out more and kept asking him if he had a pulse.
“No one would answer the question,” she said. “I was afraid.”
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 after seeing the body, it’s really hard to believe it’s real, but I just needed this,” she said.
Although she wasn’t really a sports fan, she told Wahl: “Football was more than just a sport, it was this thing that connected people all over the world.”
“There is so much about culture, sports politics, 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 and generous person who was truly dedicated to social justice.”
She recalled how her husband had promoted women’s football and recent statements he had made on LGBT rights. “It was Grant,” she said.