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A Closer Look at Tim Russert's Death

The whole nation was saddened with the sudden death by cardiac arrest of TV journalist, Tim Russert. Many of us have asked how could such a young man who was so full of life die so quickly? And the next question we have is could something have been done to prevent it?

Tim Russert probably died of a blood clot that blocked the supply of oxygen to his heart muscle. This can result in disruption of the heart's electrical impulses that can produce such a rapid or chaotic heart rate that the heart is essentially unable to pump blood to the rest of the body and death quickly ensues.

According to his doctors, Mr. Russert was known to have coronary artery disease but he was without any other symptoms. More than half of men who die of coronary artery disease don't have any symptoms. Other times mild symptoms such as shortness of breath or pains in the back of neck or shoulders occur but are ignored.

The standard tests for heart disease is a treadmill test, which only detects severe blockage (> 70%) of the coronary arteries. Thus minor blockages can sometimes be more dangerous than larger ones, as they won't be detected by such tests or by symptoms.

Other diagnostic tests include the thallium stress test, echocardiogram, CT angiograms, and coronary calcium scoring. These tests are more precise for detecting coronary artery disease.

What could have been done? Immediate action must be taken. The chances of survival decrease 10% for every minute that passes after cardiac arrest. Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) requires immediate treatment with a defibrillator, a device that sends an electrical shock to the heart. Defibrillation can restore a normal rhythm to a heart that is beating irregularly. To be effective, defibrillation must be provided within minutes of cardiac arrest.

Police, emergency medical technicians, and other first responders are usually trained and equipped to use a defibrillator. The sooner 911 is called after a person experiences SCA, the sooner potentially lifesaving defibrillation can be provided.

Special defibrillators that untrained bystanders can use in an emergency are becoming more available in some public places, like Louis Armstrong airport, office buildings, and shopping centers. These devices are called automated external defibrillators (AEDs). Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) should be given to a person having SCA until defibrillation can be provided.

I believe Mr. Russert would have liked to raise the public awareness for SCA. Perhaps his untimely death could turn into something very positive so others won't have to suffer the same fate as our dear departed friend.