At the Ironman Canada triathlon last August, Canadian triathlete Walter Eugene Wiwchar became distressed during the swim portion of the race and died.
This article in the online edition of the Penticton (British Columbia) Western News chronicles the day’s events. The article does not completely describe the sequence of events, but apparently Wiwchar was rescued from the water near the completion of the swim portion when he indicated he was in distress. By the time he was rescued, he was unconscious.
The article reports that an autopsy showed that the cause of death was drowning, but that Wiwchar had the condition called aortic dissection–a tearing apart of the layers of the portion of the aorta that carries blood away from the heart and to the rest of the body. The article speculates that the physical distress caused by the aortic dissection probably led, in turn, to the drowning.
We’ve mentioned aortic dissection previously here at the blog, in relation to individuals (like Flo Hyman) who have the Marfan Syndrome. These individuals are particularly predisposed to the problem of aortic dissection. It turns out, though, that most individuals who suffer aortic dissection do not have Marfan Syndrome. It turns out that nearly all individuals with aortic dissection have high blood pressure (that is poorly controlled).
The consequences of aortic dissection are always serious and often fatal. Even with immediate medical attention (and possible surgery to correct the problem), many affected patients die. The most obvious key to prevention of this problem is vigorous treatment of high blood pressure. This is particularly true for athletes.