Tim Russert, age 58, moderator of Meet the Press and National political correspondent, died of a massive heart attack in his office on Friday June 13th, 2008. He went to work that morning completely asymptomatic and dropped dead around 11 am. The news is reporting that he had a “coronary thrombosis” which is a fancy way of saying “heart attack”. Basically, he had plaque in his artery, had a plaque rupture and a subsequent blood clot which blocked the flow of blood to his heart muscle. Tim passed a stress test in April 2008 (just 2 months ago) and he likely would have passed a stress test Friday morning.
How can this be? How can a 58 year old, healthy man, die suddenly of a massive heart attack?
Sadly enough, Tim’s story is not unique. This happens every 30 seconds in this country and remains the number one cause of death for both men and women. I watched a report today on the Today Show, where Merideth Vieira interviewed Dr. Nancy Snyderman about Tim’s “unique” situation. I was very upset to find that Dr. Snyderman did nothing to explain how Tim could have been identified earlier, how his disease could have been stabilized and monitored appropriately. Please know that Tim Russert could have lived a long a healthy life with plaque in his artery walls as long as the disease was treated properly and maintained stability. Fortunately, we have science that allows to appropriately assess, treat, and follow vascular disease.
This is a copy of an e-mail that I sent to a national colleague asking if I would be willing to talk to Merideth Vieira about the interview regarding Tim Russert:
“Familiarity provokes understanding. Because Tim Russert was a familiar figure in this country, his case must become a “tipping point” for change. As mentioned in the story, Tim passed a stress test in April and (appropriately so) his doc said that if he had had a stress test Friday morning, he likely would have passed it then as well…..obviously alluding to “event reality.” However, Dr. Nancy Snyderman tragically skirted the issue of Merideth’s direct question and that was, “How can we find out if there is a problem prior to a heart attack?”. Dr. Snyderman explained his “coronary thrombosis” using the terminology of “plaque that floats off” causing a blood clot. When Merideth Vieira further questioned if there “was anything we could do to find out if we have risk prior to having a heart attack,” she skirted the issue by talking about risk factors, i.e.: lack of sleep, touched on metabolic syndrome and stress.
However, she did NOT mention any technology supporting detecting subclinical atherosclerosis and following disease stability with structural testing (CIMT) and biomarkers (PLAC-2, hsCRP, microalb/creat). Sadly, Dr. Snyderman did a final disservice to the public when she basically said that Tim’s case was “unique” and these “nuances in medicine remind us that there is definitely a higher power.” This is so tragic. The public needs to know that Tim’s case is NOT unique and it doesn’t explain a “nuance” in medicine – quite the opposite: what happened to Tim, happens every 30 seconds in this country. Medicine does have the ability to prevent this –
This is an opportunity to educate the public and I don’t want to miss it. Tim Russert was a very familiar public figure and people will be drawn to his story and seek explanation and understanding as to why this occurred. Vascular disease IS identifiable and treatable – we need to do something…..NOW!!
Prevention is the key to living a long and healthy life; basically I like the language of “living well.” Tim Russert was taken too early and it doesn’t have to be that way. We have proven that atherosclerosis is a treatable disease. It can be identified prior to an event and it can be monitored for stability and regressed with proper treatment. What happened to Tim Russert was unfortunate and definitely tragic. He was a unique individual because of his personality, not because of his vascular disease.