17 June 2008

What Killed Tim Russert?

Tim Russert died unexpectedly. Death frequently stuns us when someone we know dies unexpectedly. The most surprising deaths are those from people who are young, and those who you know should have many more fruitful years of achievement ahead of them.

What killed Tim Russert? Could it have been prevented? There are several theories:
The answer, at least in part, is that although doctors knew that Mr. Russert, the longtime moderator of "Meet the Press" on NBC, had coronary artery disease and were treating him for it, they did not realize how severe the disease was because he did not have chest pain or other telltale symptoms that would have justified the kind of invasive tests needed to make a definitive diagnosis. In that sense, his case was sadly typical: more than 50 percent of all men who die of coronary heart disease have no previous symptoms, the American Heart Association says.

It is not clear whether Mr. Russert’s death could have been prevented. He was doing nearly all he could to lower his risk. He took blood pressure pills and a statin drug to control his cholesterol, he worked out every day on an exercise bike, and he was trying to lose weight, his doctors said on Monday. And still, it was not enough. ~ NYTimes, 17 June 2008

What do doctors know about risk factors?
Doctors do know that a previous history of heart attacks is the most important risk factor. Vice President Dick Cheney, who has suffered four heart attacks, wears a pacemaker to ward off sudden arrest. Age and gender also play roles, and as a 58-year-old male, Russert was in high-risk groups; the average age for suffering sudden cardiac death is between 58 and 62. Other factors involved in all forms of cardiovascular disease --- family history, smoking, diabetes, and obesity—can come into play. Russert had some of these too; he had been previously diagnosed with diabetes and and coronary artery disease, and his autopsy on Friday showed an enlarged heart. But doctors do not know which of these factors is most important in causing a sudden heart attack, or why. They also do not know if stress plays a role at all; the data is unclear. "Most of us do not think it is terribly relevant," says Steven Nissen, chair of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic and a past president of the American College of Cardiology. After all, he notes, "many people in this world have stressful jobs," and they don't all die of of heart attacks. ~ Newsweek, 14 June 2008

So, he knew he was sick and was doing everything medically possible to live longer and be healthy. Still, he died...and no one knows why.

Is there a lesson to be learned?

I think I agree with what the NYTimes said: "If there is any lesson in his death, his doctors said, it is a reminder that heart disease can be silent, and that people, especially those with known risk factors, should pay attention to diet, blood pressure, weight and exercise --- even if they are feeling fine."

It will take more studies and research to outwit Death.

UPDATE: Asked by CNN's Larry King if Tim had been a good patient, Dr. Michael Newman, Russert's doctor said ---
Newman: Tim was a great patient. Tim Russert as a patient was the Tim Russert that we all know. He complied with almost everything that was asked of him. He was well-informed, asked good questions. Tim was a good patient. Are there things all of us as patients could be better at? Sure. But Tim was a good patient.

Full text of the interview here.

3 reactions:

BatJay said...

naiyak nga ako doc nung napanood ko yung tribute sa kanya last sunday sa meet the press. they played springsteen's thunder road whil showing clips of him through the years.

personally, i know that it takes a lot of effort to be healthy, especially if you have a family history of heart disease and diabetes.

the meds only go so much. a lifestyle change is what's really required - exercise, eating the right food and relaxing from time to time. and yet, sometimes even that isn't enough.

but you have to give yourself a chance by increasing the odds of living longer.

Bob said...

What stands out to me above all else in reading the numerous articles about Tim Russert's heart attack, is the complete lack of mention of studies showing that a diet of 10% or less fat has been shown to reverse heart disease. Not one mention of studies by Esselstyn, Ornish, and others in peer reviewed medical journals showing these results. Tim Russert made a life style choice that many make. He lived a full and productive life, but he died earlier than he probably would have if he had made other lifestyle choices. We are missing such a wonderful opportunity to tell people heart disease is avoidable and maybe curable through diet.

Jeffrey Dach MD said...

Tim Russert and George Carlin

Two beloved American celebrities have succumbed to heart disease before their time. The national response has been disappointment in a medical system that could allow this to happen. What could have been done differently to save the lives of both Tim and George, to avoid this fatal outcome?

To read more...Saving Tim Russert and George Carlin by Jeffrey Dach MD

Jeffrey Dach MD
4700 Sheridan Suite T
Hollywood FL 33021
my web site