What We Can Learn from Kevin Smith’s Heart Attack
Director and actor Kevin Smith (“Clerks,” “Jay and Silent Bob”) recently experienced a massive heart attack between comedy show sets for a standup special in Glendale, Calif. Emergency surgery saved his life. In a post on Facebook after returning home, Smith wrote: “If I hadn’t canceled the second show to go to the hospital, the doc said I would’ve died tonight.” Smith is 47.
We talked to Einstein cardiologist Jon C. George, MD, for his insights into the incident that nearly claimed Kevin Smith’s life. Dr. George is Director of the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory and Director of Interventional Research at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia.
Q: Can you describe the kind of cardiovascular issue Kevin Smith experienced?
A: As has been reported, Mr. Smith had a 100 percent blockage in the left anterior descending (LAD) artery. This typically suggests that he had build-up of plaque within this artery over several years and subsequent narrowing of the artery and limitation of blood flow to the supplied territory of the heart muscle. More acutely, the already narrowed artery became completely blocked when he formed a blood clot in that segment, completely obstructing blood flow to the heart muscle.
Q: Kevin Smith’s heart attack was described as a “widow-maker.” Can you explain what that means?
A: The LAD blockage is termed “widow-maker” because it supplies blood to about two-thirds of the heart muscle and is often a sudden killer if it does not receive immediate attention. Thankfully for Mr. Smith, he was taken to the hospital emergently and underwent life-saving angioplasty and a stenting procedure to abort such consequences.
Q: What are the risk factors for this kind of problem?
A: There are several risk factors for developing coronary artery disease (CAD) or blockages within heart arteries and these include: age (50 and older for men and post-menopausal for women), high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, obesity, and family history.
Q: Are there ways to know if you have this problem? Any potential warning signs?
A: Classic symptoms of angina include chest pressure on exertion, shortness of breath, or radiating pain down the left arm. However, female and diabetic patients have atypical symptoms and any kind of chest discomfort or shortness of breath could be an equivalent signal of coronary artery disease.
Q: How is it treated?
A: It is treated with angioplasty and stenting or, in complex cases, with open heart surgery and bypass grafting.
Q: Can it be prevented?
A: Prevention involves treatment of risk factors including lifestyle modification, smoking cessation, and adequate control of blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Photo By Bill Badger (tylerdurden2001) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons