Grant Wahl, the American soccer reporter who collapsed and died while covering the World Cup in Qatar last week, died of an aortic aneurysm that ruptured, his wife, Dr. Celine Gounder, said Wednesday.
“It’s just one of these things that had been likely brewing for years, and for whatever reason it happened at this point in time,” 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 from a “slowly growing, undetected ascending aortic aneurysm with hemopericardium.
“The chest pressure he experienced shortly before his death may have represented the initial symptoms. No amount of CPR or shocks would have saved him,” she said.
Wahl, a longtime college basketball and soccer reporter for Sports Illustrated and for his own newsletter, collapsed while covering Friday’s Argentina-Netherlands match and was later declared dead. He was 49.
He had covered soccer for more than two decades, including 11 World Cups — six men’s, five women’s – and authored several books on the sport, according to his website.
His body was returned to the US on Monday for the autopsy, US State Department spokesperson 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 blood pumping can split the layers of the artery wall, allowing blood to leak. In 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 among men.
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta said an aortic aneurysm is generally rare and difficult to spot.
“It’s very hard to screen for this sort of problem,” he said. “This is probably something that had been there for some time but not causing much in the way of symptoms.”
In the days before his death, Wahl said he was feeling unwell.
“It had gotten pretty bad in terms of like the tightness in my chest, tightness, pressure. Feeling pretty hairy, bad,” he told co-host Chris Wittyngham in an episode of the podcast Futbol with Grant Wahl published days before his death. He added that he sought help at the clinic at the World Cup media center, believing he had bronchitis.
He further described the incident in a newsletter published on December 5, writing that his body “broke down” after he had little sleep, high stress and a heavy workload. He’d had a cold for 10 days, which “turned into something more severe,” he wrote, adding that he felt better after receiving antibiotics and catching up on sleep.
Tributes to her late husband are touching and bring her comfort, 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 began seeing messages from a friend who said Wahl had collapsed and medical personnel attempted CPR for 20 minutes. She tried to track down someone at the hospital in Qatar to learn more and kept asking whether he had a pulse.
“No one would answer the question,” she said. “I was scared.”
She also said she went see her late husband’s body; “I just really needed to see,” she said.
“Honestly, this has been so surreal… even now having seen the body it’s really hard to believe this is real, but I just needed that,” she said.
Though she was not much of a sports fan, she said for Wahl, “Soccer was more than just a sport, it was this thing that connected people around the world.”
“There’s so much about the culture, the politics of sport, of soccer. To him it was a way of really understanding people and where they were coming from,” she said. “I want people to remember him as this kind, generous person who was really dedicated to social justice.”
She recalled how her husband promoted the women’s game, and recent statements he made about LGBT rights. “That was Grant,” she said.