Ron Savage, Bill Paxton and Bob Harper: Heart health is more than exercise and diet

- We've learned the passing of beloved FOX 2 coworker Ron Savage was due to a blockage of the left coronary artery, commonly called "the widowmaker." Ron seemed so healthy; he was a firefighter and was extremely active so his cause of death is puzzling to so many of us.

Firefighters say they're supposed to get annual physicals, but many admitted they don't. The fire chief told us that Ron had just undergone a rigorous physical in August and passed with flying colors. It's not known yet, though, if the physical checked the heart's condition.

The left coronary artery is the one that supplies most of the pumped blood to the heart, and it's also the most prone to get blocked. Most people also show or see no symptoms of the blockage, which is why this artery is commonly called "the widowmaker," which is also a bit of an outdated term because the blockage affects women, too. Rosie O'Donnell, for example, has shared that she had 99 percent artery blockage at the time of her heart attack.

Fire Chief: 'Nothing we could do' as Ron Savage suffered fatal heart attack

Cardiologist Dr. Joel Kahn says the factors that cause a blockage are very complex.

"Diet is a factor; smoking's a factor; genetics is a factor; so much of the obscure chemicals we can now measure is a factor; blood sugar; blood pressure; the whole Simple 7 of the American Heart Association. It's way more than that. It's way more than Simple 7," Kahn says.

So, how do we find out if we have artery blockage?

"You might have symptoms," Dr. Kahn says. "If you're getting short or breath and you didn't used to; if you're getting tightness and you didn't used to. For women, it could be palpatations and sweating."

He says not smoking and having a normal cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar along with exercising and eating healthy is going to lower your risk.

"But, you still may be carrying other factors," he warns.

Many hospitals also offer a one-minute CAT scan of your heart called the Coronary Calcium Scan. This measures calcium-containing plaque in the arteries and gives doctors a good indication of any blockage.

Dr. Kahn says the research shows this test is the most accurate of all and the best indicator of any blockage. He says there's practically no reason not to spend the money and check your heart.

"If you think you have no problem, get the real answer. Don't be surprised," Dr. Kahn says. "Ron probably would have been abnormal; I don't know his details. Bob Harper would have been abnormal. Bill Paxton would have been abnormal. Carrie Fisher would have been abnormal."

Bob Harper is a celebrity personal trainer and is known for his work on the TV series "The Biggest Loser." He recently shared on Instagram that he had a heart attack two weeks ago. He is 51.

His heart attack also came as a surprise to many, since he's known to eat healthy and exercise often.

"He's claiming genetics based on his mom having a heart attack in her 70s," Dr. Kahn says. "You'dneed to do the whole evaluation to really pinpoint why he had this problem, but it proves the point -- you can't out-exercise a bad diet."

The death of actor Bill Paxton also shocked many this weekend. He died from complications following heart surgery. And just a few months ago, actress Carrie Fisher suffered a fatal heart attack on a flight from London to Los Angeles.

"Exercise is awesome. Exercise. But, you better take care of the rest of the picture -- and get checked," Dr. Kahn says.

Dr. Kahn says in Texas, everyone at age 50 can get the Coronary Calcium Scan for free under all insurance programs. Legislature hasn't allowed for that here yet in Michigan, and Dr. Kahn urges us to contact our legislators and push to make that a routine insurance-covered benefit.

For the month of February - National Heart Month - St. John Providence is offering their package of seven screenings at a discount. These tests identify if you are at risk to have a heart attack, or possibly a stroke.

If you schedule your tests in the month of February, they'll be $60. Otherwise, the cost is $75. You can get more information online here.

Check with your local hospital to see what heart screenings they offer and what the cost is.


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