Tim Russert: Did He Receive Adequate Heart Care?
The sudden passing of news giant, Tim Russert, of sudden cardiac death dealt a blow to the American consciousness.
Perhaps his hard-hitting interviewing style, while making guests squirm, provided an appearance of invincibility. But, of course, none of us is invincible. We are all vulnerable to this disease. We should not allow Mr. Russert's tragic death to pass without taking some lessons.
Unfortunately, much of the popular media will leap to the wrong conclusions, no thanks to the misleading comments of many “official” spokespeople.
Douglas Zipes, M.D., former President of the American College of Cardiology, for instance, said, "An automated external defibrillator (AED) could have been a life-saver. AEDs should be as common as fire extinguishers."
Sadly, this is the typical treat-the-catastrophe sort of commentary that typically issues from conventionally-thinking medical people and echoed by the press. It will pass off Mr. Russert’s death as something that couldn’t have been predicted, an unavoidable tragedy of the human condition.
I disagree. Let's cut the media soft-shoe and the usual beware-of-symptoms warnings. Judging from the honesty Mr. Russert conveyed in his interview and media presence, I suspect that’s the way he’d like it.
Read our update: Russert's Death Deemed Preventable: What You Need to Ask Your Doctor
It is virtually certain that Mr. Russert’s death was due to a ruptured plaque (an atherosclerotic plaque) in one of his coronary (heart) arteries, prompting rhythm instability, or ventricular fibrillation. It takes no leap of imagination to believe that Mr. Russert shared the number one cause of death in men in the U.S.
Despite Dr. Zipes exhortations (above), making automatic external defibrillators (AED) available might have Band-Aided the ventricular fibrillation that commonly results in the midst of heart attack, but it would not have stopped the heart attack that triggered it.
Though full details of Mr. Russert's health have not been made available, it is quite likely that he was prescribed the usual barely effective panoply of "prevention": aspirin, statin drug, anti-hypertensive medication. In my view, this conventional approach is as effective as aspirin for a fractured hip.
Apparently, Mr. Russert had already been diagnosed with having coronary artery disease. But why did he have it in the fist place? (In fact, anyone with heart disease should always ask this question and demand a satisfactory answer. “It’s genetic” is not a satisfactory answer!) If Mr. Russert’s healthcare was anything like what I observe around me, it is highly unlikely that all causes of Mr. Russert's heart disease had been identified. For instance, did he have small LDL (it's certain he did, given his body habitus of generous tummy), Lp(a), low HDL, pre-diabetic patterns, inflammatory abnormalities, vitamin D deficiency, etc.? You can be sure little or none of this had been addressed. Was he even taking fish oil? This simple effort reduces the likelihood of sudden cardiac death by 45% and could cost all of 25 cents per day.
Far more could have been done to prevent Mr. Russert's needless death. And I don't mean making AED's available in office buildings. I'm talking about preventing the rupture of atherosclerotic plaque in the first place.
More can be done to prevent future similar deaths among all of us. Our job is to use the tragic death of Mr. Russert to help those around us learn that heart disease is identifiable and preventable. Though Mr. Russert championed honesty and full disclosure in political commentary, he sadly probably did not receive it in his health advice. Don't let this happen to you or those around you.