When death strikes suddenly, the clinical why of it all becomes as terribly pressing as it is ultimately irrelevant. At TPM we first heard news of Tim Russert's death from colleagues and sources in the news and political world at about 3:20 PM eastern. We scrambled to find out more information -- particularly, some sort of confirmation. And we first published news of Russert's death about 8 minutes later when his passing was confirmed by The New York Times
From the first reports it seemed clear that Russert had died of a heart attack. But there was some uncertainty in the original reporting, which I guess makes sense since I'm not sure a heart attack, or what is in clinical terms called a 'myocardial infarction
', can be definitively distinguished from other causes of cardiac arrest without an autopsy.
Since Russert had flown across the Atlantic just yesterday it had occurred to me and a few of our readers this afternoon that he might have suffered a pulmonary embolism
-- something that can strike people who have been on long plane flights or extended bed rest
. But this was not the case.
This may seem like a coolly clinical response to this very sad news. But that's not the case. My own curiosity, which is much to dispassionate a word to convey my need to know, must have stemmed from the fact that my own father died just short of two years ago
in more or less exactly the same way.
When I heard the first sketchy descriptions of my father's death I thought the people who were telling me he had had a heart attack must be wrong because there was, apparently, no violent grasping of the chest or look of pressure or pain on his face. In layman's terms, he had a few moments of feeling flush. And then he fainted. To me, in my happy ignorance, that sounded more like a stroke.
This evening when I checked back on the news after spending time with my family, I read this story
in the New York Times
which now confirms that a sudden heart attack was the cause of death.
His internist, Dr. Michael A. Newman, told MSNBC that "an autopsy had found that Mr. Russert had an enlarged heart and significant coronary artery disease." According to the Associated Press
, Russert had been "diagnosed with asymptomatic coronary artery disease, which he was controlling with medication and exercise."
Since heart attack is such a common cause of death (the most common in the United States) I know many, many of you have experienced something very similar in your own lives. My fingers on the keyboard want to say that I can only imagine the shock and grief his wife and son are feeling right now. But I don't have to imagine. I remember. And my heart and prayers go out to them. Even more I wish them loved ones who can support and contain their agony and sorrow.
Russert was 58 years old.