Remembering Tim Russert

July 1, 2008 by  

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Instead of featuring a heart(y) celebrity this month, I would like to pay my respects to Tim Russert of NBC.

I was travelling around Western Europe when I heard of his unexpected death. Even here in the old continent, his name and face was known, especially among the English-speaking community. Russert was a respected political journalist whose opinion carried a lot of weight in the political scene.

There was a lot of speculation in the media about his untimely death and whether his death could have been prevented. These led a lot of contradicting reports about Russert’s case.

Heartwire discussed the Russert’s case with 3 cardiovascular experts. On the downside, Russert’s condition can be summarized as follows:

  • He had an asymptomatic coronary artery disease.
  • He had hypertension and high cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
  • Ten years ago, he had a calcium CT scan score of 210, indicating moderate to high risk for a heart attack.
  • He was overweight.
  • He was in considerable stress
  • He was sleep-deprived, probably as part of his job in following the US presidential preliminaries.

On the upside:

  • As a seasoned journalist, Tim Russert was surely aware of his risks and was doing a lot to manage his risks.
  • His sugar levels were slightly elevated but without indications of diabetes.
  • He seemed to have his cholesterol levels and blood pressure under control with medications.
  • He regularly did physical exercise.

The downside may indeed have won over the upside. Tim Russert had a heart attack and collapsed in his work place at NBC on Friday, 13 June. Russert was defibrillated three times, presumably with an automatic external defibrillator (AED) on site before his delivery at Sibley Memorial Hospital.

Autopsy after his death showed an enlarged left ventricle. The immediate cause of death was identified as “ventricular fibrillation following plaque rupture in his left anterior descending artery.”

Could Tim Russert’s death have been prevented with newer tests and treatments?

One expert interviewed by heartwire, Dr. Dr Eric Topol of Scripps Translational Science Institute commented that monitoring Russert’s C-reactive protein (CRP) levels could have given more information about his risk for a heart attack. CRP is a major biomarker of inflammation.

According to the American Heart Association

“While many heart attacks can be prevented before they occur, or treated while in progress to halt or lessen the damage, not all can; coronary heart disease is still the number one killer of men, accounting for more than half of all deaths among men. More than 50 percent of all men who die of coronary heart disease have no previous symptoms.”

Truly “in the midst of life,” the monsters heart disease and stroke are waiting for their next victim.


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