LEGENDARY US SOCCER JOURNALIST GRANT WAHL DIED at 49 from a ruptured aortic aneurysm while covering the World Cup in Qatar. Wahl collapsed and died while covering the World Cup last week. Today we look at the life of Grant Wahl and explore aneurysm risk reduction.
His wife, Dr. Celine Gounder, says, “it’s just one of these things that had been brewing for years, and for whatever reason, it happened at this point.” She explained the findings on “CBS Mornings” in her first interview since her husband’s passing.
Grant Wahl’s wife reveals the cause of death in the first interview since he died at World Cup in Qatar.
Following an autopsy performed by the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office, we learned that he died from “the rupture of a slowly growing, undetected ascending aortic aneurysm with hemopericardium.”
Dr. Gounder explains that “the chest pressure he experienced shortly before his death may have represented initial symptoms. No amount of CPR or shocks would have saved him.”
Grant Wahl’s remarkable life
Born in Mission, Kansas (USA ) in 1973, Wahl graduated from Princeton University. During his first year, he covered Princeton’s men’s soccer team, then coached by Bob Bradley, who would go on to manage professional soccer teams.
Bradley opened the door for Wahl to study abroad in Argentina. Wahl spent time with the Boca Juniors before returning to the United States for the 1994 FIFA World Cup. Wahl volunteered that his experiences with the veteran coach catalyzed his love of soccer.
Wahl began his journalism career with the Miami Herald as an intern in 1996. He joined Sports Illustrated in November 1996, covering college basketball and soccer. Here are some of his reporting career highlights:
- 12 NCAA basketball tournaments
- Eight FIF Men’s World Cups
- Four FIFA Women’s World Cups
- Five Olympic games
Wahl first gained critical acclaim for his Sports Illustrated cover story “Where’s Daddy?” a look at the growing number of illegitimate children born to professional athletes.
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Notable among his stories was a 2002 one with high school student and future basketball superstar LeBron James. Here is James speaking about Wahl:
“He was always pretty cool to be around. He spent a lot of time in my hometown of Akron. Whenever his name comes up, I’ll always think back to me as a teenager having Grant in our building down at St. V’s. It’s a tragic loss. It’s unfortunate to lose someone as great as he was. I wish his family the best. May he rest in paradise.
In October 2009, while covering the 2010 FIFA World Cup qualification, Wahl was robbed of his phone and wallet at gunpoint in broad daylight in Tegucigalpa, Honduras; earlier in the day, he had interviewed interim Honduran president Roberto Micheletti, who later apologized to Wahl over the incident.
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Wahl and aneurysm
An aortic aneurysm is a balloon-like bulge in the aorta, the body’s largest artery — “sort of the trunk of all the blood vessels,” explains Wahl’s wife, Dr. Gounder. She is an infectious disease specialist and CBS News medical contributor. An aortic aneurysm can “dissect” or — as in Wahl’s case — rupture.
Aortic aneurysms can dissect or rupture:
- The force of blood pumping can split the artery wall’s layers, allowing blood to leak between them. This process is called a dissection.
- The aneurysm can burst completely, causing bleeding inside the body. This phenomenon is a rupture.
- Dissections and ruptures are the cause of most deaths from aortic aneurysms.
According to the United States Centers for Disease Control, aortic aneurysms or dissections caused about 10,000 deaths in 2019. Approximately three in five were among men. A history of smoking accounts for about 75 percent of all abdominal aortic aneurysms.
Thoracic aortic aneurysm
Grant Wahl had a thoracic (in the chest) aortic aneurysm burst. Men and women are equally likely to get thoracic aortic aneurysms. The condition becomes more common with increasing age.
Thoracic aneurysms are typically caused by high blood pressure or sudden trauma. Some inherited conditions, including Marfan syndrome and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, are associated with a higher incidence of the condition.
The CDC offers these symptoms of thoracic aortic aneurysm:
- Sharp, sudden pain in the chest or upper back
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
Abdominal aortic aneurysm
An abdominal aortic aneurysm occurs below the chest. Abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAA) are more common than thoracic aortic aneurysms. AAAs are more common in men and those 65 and older. White individuals are more likely to have them (compared with Black people).
Abdominal aortic aneurysms are usually the product of atherosclerosis (hardened arteries), but infection or injury can also cause them. Unfortunately, AAAs often don’t have associated symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they can include groin, buttocks, or leg pain. Some have throbbing or deep pain in the side or back.
Other aneurysm types
Aneurysms can occur in other body sites. For example, a ruptured brain aneurysm can cause a stroke. Aneurysms may be discovered in the neck, groin, or behind the knees. Such aneurysms are less likely to dissect or rupture but can be associated with clots. The clots sometimes break away ad block blood flow through an artery.
Aortic aneurysm risk factors
The leading risk factor for an aortic aneurysm is smoking. Other risk factors include high blood pressure (hypertension), high cholesterol, and hardened arteries (atherosclerosis). Here are some potential risk-reducing maneuvers you may wish to consider:
- If possible, keep your blood pressure below 130/80 mm Hg.
- Don’t smoke.
- Have a healthy diet.
- Get regular physical activity.
- If you have an aneurysm discovered by screening (or chance), please see a specialist who can monitor your condition. Monitoring may include periodic imaging (for some, a procedure to lower the rupture risk).
Inherited connective tissue disorders, such as Marfan syndrome and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, can also increase your aortic aneurysm risk. A family history of aortic aneurysm is also linked to a higher risk.
Finally, the US Preventive Services Task Force recommends an ultrasound screening for abdominal aortic aneurysms in men between the ages of 65 and 75 who have smoked.
I will end with the words of his wife, Dr. Céline Gounder:
“I want people to remember [Grant] as this kind, generous person who was really dedicated to social justice.”
Thank you for joining me for this brief look at the life of Grant Wahl and aneurysm risk reduction.