Soccer journalist Grant Wahl died of an aortic aneurysm in Qatar, where he was covering the World Cup, his wife said Wednesday, citing an autopsy.
Wahl, 49, was covering the Argentina-Netherlands quarterfinal match Friday when he “fell ill” and was tended to on-site by paramedics and taken to a hospital, Qatar officials said last week. He was pronounced dead shortly after.
His body arrived in New York City on Monday and was transferred to the local medical examiner’s office.
Wahl’s wife, Dr. Céline Gounder, revealed the cause of his death on “CBS Mornings” on Wednesday.
“He had an autopsy done here in New York by the New York City medical examiner’s office, and it showed that he had an aortic aneurysm that ruptured,” she said on the show.
“It’s just one of those things that had been likely brewing for years,” she added.
Gounder, an infectious disease specialist, shared a statement on Wahl’s Substack on Wednesday, saying “there was nothing nefarious about his death.”
She added that the autopsy revealed “Grant died from the rupture of a slowly growing, undetected ascending aortic aneurysm with hemopericardium. The chest pressure he experienced shortly before his death may have represented the initial symptoms.”
An aortic aneurysm is a balloon-like bulge in the aorta, the large artery that carries blood from the heart through the chest and torso, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A rupture, one of the causes of most deaths from aortic aneurysms, occurs when the bulge bursts completely, causing bleeding inside the body.
Aortic aneurysms or aortic dissections were the cause of 9,904 deaths in 2019, the CDC said. About 59% of those deaths occurred among men.
“No amount of CPR or shocks would have saved him. His death was unrelated to Covid. His death was unrelated to vaccination status,” Gounder said.
The Monday before his collapse, Wahl said on his website that he had been feeling ill and that local medical personnel told him he likely had bronchitis. He was given antibiotics, he said.
“My body finally broke down on me,” he wrote. “Three weeks of little sleep, high stress and lots of work can do that to you. What had been a cold over the last 10 days turned into something more severe on the night of the USA-Netherlands game, and I could feel my upper chest take on a new level of pressure and discomfort.”
Gounder tweeted late Friday that the news of his death came as a “complete shock.”
Wahl’s brother initially cast doubt that the illness played a role in his sudden death, citing recent threats Wahl had received as a reason to be skeptical. He said Wahl told him he got death threats after he refused to remove a T-shirt with a rainbow logo that signified solidarity with LGBTQ rights.
Wahl had shared in an interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell that he was held for more than 30 minutes, refusing to remove the shirt, until a security commander came to release him and shook his hand. Same-sex relations are illegal in Qatar.
“There’s enough that I know in my conversations with Grant to make me legitimately suspicious, if nothing else,” Eric Wahl told the Kansas City Star over the weekend. “That’s why we want transparency.”
But Eric Wahl retracted his former suspicion upon news of the initial examination of his brother’s body.
On Wahl’s website, Gounder wrote: “While the world knew Grant as a great journalist, we knew him as a man who approached the world with openness and love. Grant was an incredibly empathetic, dedicated, and loving husband, brother, uncle, and son who was our greatest teammate and fan.”
He started his career in 1996 at Sports Illustrated after graduating from Princeton University and grew as a feature writer highlighting the sports world. He went on to cover soccer exclusively in 2009, Gounder said.
She said he was “endlessly curious about the world.”
“We were also both deeply invested in one another’s families,” she wrote. “Grant knew when someone was in crisis and he needed to drop everything to be there for them — be that his family or mine.”