Champion swimmer had heart disease

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Doctors working for Norway’s national swimming team issued a full apology on Tuesday to the family of Alexander Dale Oen, the world champion Norwegian swimmer who was found dead at a training camp in Arizona last month. Oen, age 26, suffered from a heart disease they say they failed to diagnose.

Norway's star swimmer Alexander Dale Oen, at the pool in Arizona just a week before he suffered a massive heart attack and died, at the age of 26. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/Views and News

Autopsy results released by the doctors on Tuesday confirmed that Oen died of a blood clot and massive heart attack in his hotel room at the training camp in Flagstaff, Arizona.

The champion swimmer from western Norway had suffered pains that doctors thought were related to a shoulder injury. In an interview with popular Norwegian talk show host Fredrik Skavlan April 30, Oen had described how the pains ran down his arm, around his shoulder, even up to his ear and face.

But he’d undergone testing, even at the famed Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, and his EKG results were said to be normal. Oen was told the pains were tied to the inflammation of a nerve and that it could take a long time to subside.

None of his doctors, including some of the best specialists in the world, made the connection that the pains were in fact symptoms of heart disease they now say could have been treated. Instead, he suffered a massive heart attack after a relatively easy training session earlier in the day of April 30, and was found unconscious in his hotel room. His funeral was held back home in Norway on May 11.

The Norwegian swimming team’s lead doctor Ola Rønsen told reporters in Oslo on Tuesday that neither he nor his colleagues could imagine that their star swimmer, at the age of 26, could suffer from heart disease. Now, however, based on the autopsy report, “we believe it’s probable that there’s a connection between the pain he had … and heart disease,” Rønsen said.

Small changes in his heart muscles indicate he suffered a series of small heart attacks for one to two months before he died, the doctors said. “Typical signs of these minor heart attacks are pains in the chest, pains in the neck and throat and down the arms,” said heart specialist Dr. Eivind Berge.

The doctors said they had apologized to Oen’s family for failing to detect the problem. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported the family in turn said they were grateful for all the support they have received and for the work that went into the autopsy and studies of why Oen died.

As late as April 30, when the talk show interview with Skavlan was taped, Oen himself said the pains had subsided. “I have positive days, and am very, very optimistic,” Oen said to applause from the TV studio audience when he referred to the upcoming Summer Olympics in London. Oen had been Norway’s biggest medal hope at the upcoming Olympics.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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