A heart attack reportedly took the life of USC freshman water polo standout Jon Walters on Wednesday, but was likely quite different from the kind of “classic” myocardial infarction that afflicts older heart attack sufferers, according to a pediatric surgeon familiar with similar cases.
The physician, a former intercollegiate water polo player, confirmed that heart attacks among the young, especially athletes, are very rare. In the surgeon’s experience, similar cases among young adults and adolescents were often caused by “an undiagnosed cardiac issue.”
“Usually they have some sort of underlying electrical abnormality and develop an arrhythmia with subsequent inefficient blood flow, lack of oxygen to the brain… They don’t tend to have the classic [heart attack] with vessel blockage and ischemic symptoms,” he said.
Bill Walters, Jon’s father, told the Orange County Register on Wednesday that his son had succumbed to a heart attack, leading some fans and mourners to question via social media how a young, elite athlete could fall to a condition typically associated with older people.