As she finished a Zoom meeting with a colleague, Dr. Céline Gounder’s phone began to buzz incessantly.
The phone had been on silent, but now Gounder was inundated with numerous text messages, WhatsApp messages, Twitter messages and phone calls.
It was a phone call from Gabriele Marcotti, senior writer at ESPN and close friend of Gounder for over 20 years, that explained why her phone had been blowing up.
“I called him back and he had this panic in his voice, his voice was trembling, which immediately had me really afraid,” Gounder, who lives and works in New York, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.
Marcotti said that he had witnessed Gounder’s husband Grant Wahl collapse at the Lusail stadium in Doha while covering the World Cup quarterfinal between Argentina and Netherlands game at Qatar 2022.
Marcotti told Gounder that he’d seen bystanders administer CPR and Wahl – a renowned soccer journalist – was now on the way to hospital.
“I asked Gabriele if Grant had a pulse, and he couldn’t answer. And my stomach dropped. That to me, as a physician, was a really bad sign,” Gounder said.
Hours later, Gounder received the news she had feared most as she had waited 6,689 miles away from Doha.
“It was about an hour, maybe two hours later, but I got hold of an emergency room doctor who broke the news they were not able to get a pulse back despite continuing CPR and that Grant had died.”
Goudner was stunned as she tried to process the news about her husband, whom she had met during their time at Princeton together.
Wahl died of an aortic aneurysm that ruptured, according to Gounder. Wahl had undergone an autopsy by the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office when his body had arrived back in the US.
The autopsy determined he died from “the rupture of a slowly growing, undetected ascending aortic aneurysm with hemopericardium.”
An aneurysm occurs when a weak spot in a blood vessel bulges or balloons out. In Wahl’s case, the bulge was in the aorta, the largest artery carrying blood away from the heart.
An ascending aortic aneurysm happens when the bulge is located in the section of the aorta that is close to the heart, right where it begins to climb out of the lower left pumping chamber.
If left untreated, aneurysms can cause the wall of a blood vessel to split or burst, leading to death.
During his time in Qatar, Wahl did what he had done throughout his whole career: producing work rooted in social justice and about the beautiful game’s universality.
He used his platform to promote better rights for the LGBTQ community while he was in Doha, wearing a rainbow t-shirt to the US’ game against Wales – he was detained briefly for doing so.
Through his work, Wahl had become known as an advocate for LGBTQ rights and a supporter of women’s right, something Gounder attributes to the “mentors” in his life.
“His mom was a very strong feminist, and later the journalist Gloria Emerson, who was one of the few [female] war correspondents in Vietnam and Grant got to know her at Princeton, she had taught a writing seminar,” explained Gounder.
“They came to be very good friends. On the weekends, Grant would bring Gloria a carton of Marlboro cigarettes and jellied donuts to have with her coffee, and later down the line, I’d join them. Gloria was one tough lady, as you know, having been friends with her as well.
“Between his mother and Gloria, they really taught him to be a feminist and not just as applies to women, but equality across the board.”
When they met at college, Gounder was struck by Wahl’s personality traits, which she says made him a such a good writer and journalist – but also a good person.
“Grant was just this very kind, sort of goofy person, very easy to get to know, didn’t look down on other people. And I think that was borne out in the way he was a mentor to so many in the field,” she said.
“Whether it would be an elementary school student to a junior sports writer, whenever they’d reach out for advice on their careers, wanting to have coffee, he was really available and open.
“He really took pride in paying it forward, having himself been mentored by wonderful people. And I think what you saw was how he had been generous to so many people, the karma of that coming back at the time of his death.”
In an op-ed written by Gounder – who is an infectious disease specialist, an epidemiologist and a former adviser to US President Joe Biden’s administration – in the New York Times earlier this month, she mentions that soon after his death was announced, “rumors and disinformation began to spread” about the nature of his death.
“Soon strangers began blaming Grant’s death on Covid-19 vaccines, a playbook I know all too well and a move I refuse to let stand,” she wrote.
Gounder noticed similar rumors appearing shortly after Damar Hamlin’s collapse in the middle of an NFL game recently.
“People asking why are young healthy people dying or almost dying? And their theory has been that it’s been Covid-19 vaccines.”
Gounder added: “And then simply fact Grant was a young healthy person. This was a guy who exercised five, six, seven days a week who had no underlying risk factors which had people questioning how someone could die at such a young age?”
“To be very clear, my husband’s death had nothing to do with Covid vaccinations.”
This week, Gounder shared on Twitter a letter she was sent by US President Biden at the end of 2022.
“I hope you find comfort in knowing that the love you had for Grant and the love he had for you will endure,” wrote Biden.
“It may take many seasons, but I promise you the day will come when the memory of Grant will bring a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye.”