Sudden Heart Attacks Really Do Break Hearts

As are so many people, I am stunned and saddened by the death of NBC’s Washington bureau chief and “Meet the Press” moderator Tim Russert. He was one of the few journalists I trusted.

Russert died of a sudden heart attack, which on average kills 850 Americans a day. While he’d been diagnosed and treated for several heart disease-related ailments, a piece of plaque on his artery walls fractured and caused a coronary thrombosis. posted an article describing the kind of heart attack that killed Russert. Click here to read it.

Russert’s death will probably heat up the weight and diet debate in this country, but will Americans seriously examine their diets and sedentary lifestyles as a result? My guess is, sadly, no.

My father had two heart attacks the summer of 1986. The first one was a “baby” heart attack, more of a foreshadowing of the big one a few weeks later.

I’ll never forget that night. Mom called me at 2 a.m. from the hospital saying dad had another heart attack and was in the ICU. My sister, who lived in Virginia at the time, was in town on business and I called her at her hotel. I picked her up and we went to the hospital. Seeing my father – my strong, handsome, 55-year-old father – laying helpless on a gurney and weeping as doctors and nurses fussed all around him was the most scary and sad moment of my life.

Dad lived, and the week that ensued, doctors put a stent in one of his coronary arteries because it was almost completely blocked. While diet played a role in his condition, Dad also smoked, was overweight, had a stressful job, and didn’t exercise. Once home, he changed his diet and quit smoking. He never got the drive to exercise, though. Now 78, he finally takes walks with my mom, but he took up smoking again several years ago and is now diabetic. I love my dad very much, but he’s complicated and frustrating sometimes.

Because heart disease clearly runs in my family, it was primarily that risk that drove me down the scale the last time. My triglycerides were over 300 and my cholesterol levels weren’t far behind. My sugar levels were out of sight, too, and it was a matter of time before I developed diabetes. Losing weight brought all these numbers down to normal and low ranges, but I will have to work diligently all my life to keep them that way.

I am so sad for all the people Tim Russert leaves behind. I am sad for the families and loved ones of the 850 other Americans who die every day from sudden heart attack. I hope Tim Russert’s death will not be in vain. I hope people who aren’t paying attention to their health will finally get serious and change their lives around. If not for themselves, then for the people who love them.

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