Dinamo Bucuresti’s Cameroonian international midfielder Patrick Ekeng died suddenly during a Liga I match on Friday evening, at the age of 26. Ekeng had been on the field for only seven minutes as a substitute, when he collapsed with nobody near him.
The game was stopped immediately and medics ran to Ekeng’s aid. Within three minutes he was in an ambulance and being taken to the Floreasca Emergency Hospital, next door to the Dinamo stadium where the game was being played. Doctors attempted to resuscitate the player for over an hour, but were unsuccessful.
After eyewitnesses said the ambulance was not fitted for emergency treatment and had no defibrillator, but was merely for patient transport, Romanian authorities investigated the ambulance company, Puls, and found several breaches of the law and safe practice. Expired medicines were found in the ambulance, and it was discovered that the firm had changed the classification of its vehicles without permission. Puls has been suspended for a month and fined around 5,500 euros.
Football in the first and second divisions was cancelled for the rest of the weekend, while the Romanian Cup final, scheduled for this Wednesday evening, and in which Dinamo will play, was postponed until next week. Dinamo’s sporting director has said that if they beat CFR Cluj in the final, they will send the cup to Ekeng’s family in Yaounde.
A post-mortem has apparently revealed that Ekeng’s heart showed signs of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which can increase the risk of heart attacks when doing exercise. Another Cameroonian player, Marc-Vivien Foe, died after suffering a heart attack on the pitch during an international match in 2003; he was found to have the same hereditary condition. In Romania, football watchers remember the death of a Nigerian player, Henry Chinonso Ihelewere, in a friendly match in 2012. On that occasion there was no qualified medic present. After Ihelewere’s death the Romanian players’ union requested that the federation force all clubs to have a fully equipped ambulance at every match, including friendlies. The plan, which would have cost 400 euros per match, was rejected as too expensive.
This is not Dinamo fans’ first brush with on-field tragedy. In October 2000, midfielder Cătălin Hîldan was 24 years old. He had captained Dinamo to the 1999-2000 league and cup double; he had been to the Euros that summer with the Romania squad and more recently had won his eighth cap against Greece. In the 74th minute of a friendly match against Oltenita, Hîldan suffered a cardiac arrest and died. Hîldan is remembered as “the only captain” by Dinamo fans, a stand at the stadium is named after him and he is depicted in statue form at the ground.
Ekeng’s tragic death has also coincided with a national health scare in Romania, which has shaken citizens’ already dwindling faith in their country’s institutions. Investigative journalists from a sports newspaper – looking into the prevalence of infections sustained in hospitals by victims of the Colectiv nightclub fire in Bucharest last October – revealed last week that hundreds of hospitals have been buying overpriced, heavily diluted disinfectants from a local manufacturer for several years. (Floreasca Emergency Hospital is one of them.) The president of the Doctors’ Alliance said publicly the following day that patients are not safe in state hospitals. Yesterday the health minister resigned over the government’s handling of the scandal.
Patrick Ekeng leaves behind a 2-year-old daughter and a wife, Natalia, who is 5 months pregnant, according to sources close to the player.