Russert Tragedy Strikes a Chord


The news last Friday came as an utter shock to me. Tim Russert died of a massive heart attack at age 58. The cause? Plaque ripping and causing a blood clot.

The news last Friday came as an utter shock to me. Tim Russert, a fellow journalist, a man I admired for his on-air wit and folksy wisdom, died of a massive heart attack at age 58. The cause? Plaque ripping and causing a blood clot in his left anterior descending artery, known as either the LAD or “Widow Maker.’’

Instead of finishing preparation for last Sunday’s “Meet The Press,’’ which he had made into a staple every week, Russert collapsed and soon after was pronounced dead.

One must understand how this affects me. I had a blood clot in my LAD. I was treated by some excellent interventional cardiologists and am here to bring our audience this blog from a patient’s viewpoint. I do this because I feel lucky; I am lucky to have regained my health. I am lucky to still be enjoying life and my family and friends. At times, I forget that I have a stent in my LAD — along with two others – until something happens like what transpired with Russert.

Like any man our age—Russert was two years older than I at the time of his death—he attempted to deal with cardiovascular disease. He was keeping both his blood pressure and cholesterol readings under control with medication and was exercising daily. He also was attempting to lose weight. Yet, all the measures he was taking — an autopsy revealed an enlarged heart and several blocked arteries - were not enough.

Since my heart attack in 2006, I have become something of an advocate for prevention. Since my life has been afflicted by cardiovascular disease, I have been a proponent for changing a lifestyle to manage the affliction. I am writing this blog because we have come so far in the treatment of heart disease and interventional cardiology. Two decades ago, one would not have heard a cardiologist say, “We’ve stopped the heart attack. We are now placing the stents and we are hopeful.’’

What happened to Russert will make me redouble my efforts to remain healthy, increase the steadfast manner in which I try to explain just how important medication, diet and keeping active are to all who want to combat cardiovascular disease. I also ask anyone who has high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and other factors that increase the risk of heart attack or stroke to get that check-up, perform that stress test, and listen to the advice given by cardiologists.

This is not to say that Russert wasn’t combating his cardiovascular factors. Sadly, in some situations, doing that work simply is not enough. Not every case turns out in a positive fashion. Most situations like Russert’s don’t occur in NBC’s Washington Bureau, but in living rooms, on the golf course, at a ballgame, or in the car.

The bottom line is the treatment of cardiovascular disease is, to a major degree, in the patient’s hands as well. I was so, so lucky I was treated — succesfully – in time. A blood clot can quickly destroy valuable heart muscle. Tell your patients to give themselves the best chance. It pains me when a good man like Russert didn’t get the second chance I did.

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