KANSAS CITY, Mo. (WDAF) — The family of sportswriter Grant Wahl said a ruptured heart vessel brought on by an undetected aneurysm caused his unexpected death while covering the World Cup last weekend.
Wahl, 48, likely had no idea he was experiencing an aortic aneurysm. Heart specialists explain that an aneurysm is an expanding blood vessel that can eventually rupture. Since vessels are the primary pathway for blood to the rest of the body, when one ruptures, it can be catastrophic.
Aortic aneurysms are described as “balloon-like bulges that occur in the aorta, the main artery carrying oxygen-rich blood to your body” by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Medical problems, genetic conditions, and trauma can cause the aorta’s walls to be damaged or weakened, and the force of blood pushing against these areas can lead to an aneurysm.
“It’s not as common to have this kind of complication in somebody as young as [Wahl],” Dr. Trip Zorn, a cardiac surgeon with the University of Kansas Health System, told News 2’s sister station, WDAF.
Zorn was not Wahl’s doctor, but he said it’s possible Wahl could have been genetically predisposed to this.
“Anyone who has a family history of aortic aneurysm or aortic dissection, there’s a 20% chance they have it as well. They should bring that information to their doctor’s attention,” Dr. Eric Isselbacher, a cardiologist with Massachusetts General in Boston, told WDAF.
Wahl, who grew up in Mission, Kansas, died early Saturday morning, collapsing in the press box at the World Cup in Qatar. He had complained about not feeling well in the days beforehand.
Isselbacher explained the early moments of having a ruptured aneurysm are crucial. The death rate is about one percent an hour, he said, noting that patients who catch their aneurysm early enough have a chance to survive.
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An aortic aneurysm may not cause any symptoms, according to the NHLBI, and the types of symptoms you can have will depend on where the aneurysm is and its size. Possible aortic aneurysms include:
- Difficult or painful swallowing
- Difficulty breathing
- Feeling full even if you haven’t eaten much
- Pain in the neck, jaw, chest, back, stomach area, or shoulder
- A pulsating or throbbing feeling in your stomach
- Shortness of breath
- Swelling of the face, neck, or arms
If you already know you have an aortic aneurysm, the NHLBI says it’s important to know the signs of a rupture or tear in the aorta: light-headedness, rapid heart rate, and sudden, severe pain in your stomach area, chest or back.
According to Cleveland Clinic, you can reduce your risk of developing an aortic aneurysm by eating healthy, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding smoking or using tobacco products.
Heart specialists say high blood pressure and smoking will increase a patient’s chances of an aortic aneurysm. Wahl’s widow, Celine Grounder, said there was nothing nefarious about Wahl’s passing, as many speculated at first.