Heart Attacks Are Not the Same as Athlete’s Heart

The Haywire Heart by Dr. John Mandrola, Lennard Zinn, and Chris Case illustration HAY 100px

A heart attack is not the same thing as athlete’s heart.

The Haywire Heart by Chris Case, Dr. John Mandrola, and Lennard Zinn explains that there are two groups of heart conditions: plumbing problems and electrical problems.

For a full explanation of the difference between clogging arteries, weakened valves, and abnormal electrical flow across heart muscle, please pick up a copy of The Haywire Heart, which will impress you with all the work your heart is performing at rest, much less at 165 bpm during exercise.

You can also take a look at this roster of athletes who have heart arrhythmias.

For now, let’s take a look at athletes who have suffered from heart conditions not related to the electrical arrhythmias that comprise the main focus of The Haywire Heart.

  • In 2004, Belgian Stive Vermaut died at the age of 28 following a heart attack he suffered during a training session. In the 2000 season, he rode alongside Lance Armstrong with the US Postal team.
  • In 2009, 21-year-old Frederiek Nolf of the Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator team died in his sleep one night during the Qatar Tour. According to media reports from the time, all of the evidence pointed to the Belgian having suffered a heart attack, however his parents declined an autopsy.
  • In 2012, Rob Goris died of a heart attack in a hotel at the age of 30. Like Goolaerts, the Belgian competed for the Veranda-sponsored team.
  • In 2016, 21-year-old Dutch rider Gijs Verdick of Cyclingteam Jo Piels suffered two heart attacks during an under-23 tour in Poland and was placed into an artificial coma. Verdick was brought from Poland to Zwolle in the Netherlands, where he passed away a day after his arrival.
  • Also in 2016, the Belgian Daan Myngheer (Team Roubaix Lille Métropole) suffered a heart attack and died during the first stage of the Criterium International, a two-day race in France. He had complained of discomfort during the race and collapsed after seeking medical attention. Myngheer was just 22 years old.

The Haywire Heart

Between 1987 and 1990, 20 young Belgian and Dutch cyclists died, some in their sleep, with or without alleged links to EPO use. One of them was Johannes Draaijer, a 27-year-old from the Netherlands, who finished 20th in the 1989 Tour de France, and in February 1990, died in his sleep of a heart blockage, a few days after completing a race in Italy. An autopsy did not specify the cause of death, though his widow later told the German news magazine, Der Spiegel, that her husband became sick after using EPO.

In 2017, Egyptian cyclist Eslam Nasser Zaki died during the African Continental Track Cycling Championships in South Africa. The 22-year-old fell off his bike on the track in Durban. It was later determined that he too had suffered a heart attack.