A year of sadness for Norway continues: the tragic sudden death of a world champion swimmer

Within the space of 6 weeks, a third elite athlete has had a cardiac arrest. Bolten footballer Fabrice Muamba survived a cardiac arrest during an FA cup match, while Livorno midfielder Permario Morisini died during an Italian second division match. From elite footballers, today we heard the tragic news of , a world champion swimmer who was one of Norway’s top medal hopes for the London Olympics, who died from cardiac arrest after collapsing in his bathroom during a training camp in Flagstaff, Arizona. He was 26. At this time, the cause of death remains unclear and results of the post-mortem are pending.

As I wrote in my recent blog, a very likely cause of Alexander’s death is an underlying genetic heart disorder, such as a hypertrophic cardiomyopathy or a primary arrhythmogenic disorder. The death again highlights the unpredictable nature of genetic heart diseases. People with these diseases can reach the highest levels of sporting excellence, in this instance, at the Olympic level, yet on a particular day, at a particular time, cardiac arrest occurs and death strikes. On this occasion, the death occurred not during sporting activity, but essentially during very light effort having a shower. Sudden death in the young can occur during exercise, but we have also seen in our clinics that many young deaths occur with minimal exercise or at rest. In some young people, death occurs during sleep. The reasons why sudden cardiac death in the young can occur at any time remain unclear.

After the tragic terrorist attack in Norway on July 22, 2011 that killed 69 innocent civilians, Alexander Dale Oen gave a grieving and hurting nation great hope and a reason to smile with his outstanding efforts in the swimming pool. He was marked as a possible gold medallist in the London Olympics. As with all sudden cardiac deaths in the young, Alexander Dale Oen’s death is a terrible tragedy. We await news of the cause of his death. Norway, and indeed the world, mourns.