James Gandolfini, dead of a heart attack at age 51. Beloved father, husband, and the actor we will always associate with a show called the Sopranos is now, no more. He was larger than life, thanks to his gifted acting skills and his voracious appetite. According to the available information on newswires, the actor, who allegedly struggled with alcohol and cocaine use, consumed a number of alcoholic drinks (eight is the reported count), and a double helping of fried food with mayonnaise sauce plus foie gras (a French dish whose translation is “fat liver”), before suffering a massive heart event….no one plans a heart attack. But if you’d like to set yourself up for one, take an overweight body, add in stress, and then consume a similar combination of alcohol and high calorie fatty food, and your odds for pulling it off will be greatly heightened.
No one plans a heart attack that will result in death. In fact, most of us who know we are at risk of a heart attack, more likely write a script that takes us to the hospital immediately following the heart attack for treatment, and some warnings from the doctor to lose weight and take the prescribed medication of a daily aspirin and a statin and some blood pressure medication…..and lose the weight. Do we really register that last recommendation? We don’t imagine dying – you get a second chance, right? We don’t imagine becoming impaired for life, but rather enduring the short, necessary stay in the hospital, while enjoying visits from friends, flower arrangements, and some dark chocolates (they're healthy, right?) before checking out to go home.
It is assumed by health experts interviewed immediately after his death, that James Gandolfini probably had some warning signs. He may have had some chest pressure or intermittent chest pain, or possibly a feeling of nausea after a big meal. Maybe he experienced the “typical” shooting pain down his arm so often described in an angina or heart attack, that came and then passed rather quickly. If he experienced any of these symptoms, he probably shrugged them off. Maybe he did realize that an impending heart attack was on the horizon. In his mind he just wrote the script that says, “I will be inconvenienced, and scared a bit, but I will survive and life will go on and maybe I will try to do something about it…..or not” So many men and women are walking around right now saying the same thing to themselves. Because no one plans a heart attack, one that will actually kill them, right?
Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women. Yet, I am surrounded by friends, family and random people, carrying large amounts of excess weight, rarely exercising, some of whom are taking a statin or blood pressure medication, who continue to eat high calorie meals laden with sugar and fat and sodium, on a regular basis. I am told by fellow professionals that I can’t broach the subject of lifestyle change or dangerous, risky behaviors with these individuals, unless they bring up the subject themselves. So at the restaurant, I watch them consume whole bread baskets, and Caesar salad and pasta with lots of cheese and dessert and I say nothing. Despite the fact that I’d like to shout out that they are consuming an atomic bomb of a meal, waiting to detonate in their system, I am instructed by professional peers that it is not my place to lecture or suggest or even infer concern. Despite the fact that I worry daily that the people I do know will have a heart attack, sustain serious complications or even die, I am silenced by…..etiquette.
No one plans a heart attack. And if they know it is a strong possible outcome because of their size and lifestyle behaviors, then they certainly don’t plan to suffer serious long-lasting consequences, or death. And that, my friend, is what I call the ultimate script of denial. And the final act in that script may indeed be a second chance, serious impairment or death. Anyone up for a game of Russian Roulette?
Amy Hendel is a health professional, journalist and host of Food Rescue, Simple Smoothies and What’s for Lunch? Author of Fat Families, Thin Families and The 4 Habits of Healthy Families, she tweets health headlines daily @HealthGal1103. Catch her guest appearances on Marie! on Hallmark and other local and national news and talk shows.
Published On: June 24, 2013