The Key Question About Tim Russet’s Death by Joel S. Hirschhorn

by Joel S. Hirschhorn
featured writer
Dandelion Salad
June 16, 2008

As a survivor of a heart attack and someone who has spent considerable time learning about coronary heart disease and its treatment I am bewildered by Russet’s death by sudden cardiac arrest. His autopsy confirmed that artery plaque had caused an artery to burst.

Here is what I have kept listening for on all the well deserved media coverage of this remarkable man: Given that his physician has said publicly that Russet suffered from coronary heart disease and was being treated for it, did he ever receive an angiogram by way of cardiac catheterization?

This is the best way for cardiologists to directly see whether there are plaque buildup problems in heart arteries. The procedure is very simple. Depending on what they see either you go home the same day, or the decision is made to clean the arteries out (angioplasty) and likely use stents to keep them open, or to decide that bypass surgery is needed. Use of pacemakers, possibly with a defibrillator, may also be used in conjunction with the stent approach.

Stress tests simply do not provide the same kind of direct information about what is going on inside the heart, so the fact that Russet has passed a stress test recently does not by itself mean all that much.

For many years before my heart attack I, like millions of others, had been taking prescription medicine for cholesterol control, aspirin and blood pressure medication, and I would not be surprised to learn that Russet also was on such a regime. And like Russet I also had emphasized regular physical exercise. But like Russet I too had not lost weight and being overweight remains a big problem even when taking medications. Now, of course, I have lost considerable weight; nothing like a heart attack to provide the most effective motivation to lose weight.

Considering the incredible public attention to Tim Russet’s death I hope that there is more serious inquiry into exactly how he was being treated for his coronary heart disease and, in particular, whether he had been given an angiogram. For the life of me, I do not understand why more of us are not told to get angiograms as a cost-effective, life-saving precautionary diagnostic measure.


MSNBC: Tim Russert Dies at Age 58

Hirschhorn-Joel S.

6 thoughts on “The Key Question About Tim Russet’s Death by Joel S. Hirschhorn

  1. Pingback: Tim Russert, Dick Cheney, and 9/11 by Prof. David Ray Griffin « Dandelion Salad

  2. I think everyone over the age of 50 should go and have an Advanced CAT scan of their heart. (CT Scanner that takes a detailed, high resolution picture of your heart. Insurance companies MUST now start to help pay as well.

  3. Honestly, some people chose not to know and don’t have the test done. Whether Russert made that choice will never be known, but my grandmother chose not to have the test done, my father did have the test. In the age of great technology, some people still chose not to know or not to undergo the test.

  4. Thanks for sharing your personal experience, Carol and for the link.

    A friend of mine died from a heart attack this past Sat night/Sun morning. Not sure if she was even aware of any heart problems. It’s very sad.

  5. Like Mr. Russert, I had a stress test just months before my “widowmaker” heart attack. The cardioligist said I “almost bought it.” This was six years ago.

    As a result, I have no faith in the stress test, and I absolutely hate the medicine they inject me with during it, so I was thrilled to hear, within this year, some doctors on a PBS show say that the stress test is basically a useless tool for diagnosing heart disease.

    A better alternative to it and the angiogram is suposedly the advanced CAT scan, to include a calcium test of the heart vessels. I hear it costs about $1500, and most insurance and medicare should cover it:

  6. I saw a piece on Good Morning America today with Dr. Oz describing what happened.

    Mr. Russert had a “cut” on the inside of the LAD coronary artery (aka the widow maker), a scab formed over it, and the artery became occluded within minutes. Also, he probably did not have pain symptoms we often associate with an MI. It sounds like other than years of prevention, there was not much that could be done about it.

Comments are closed.