In March , 2016, Garry Shandling died suddenly and unexpectedly. At the time, TMZ reported that “Sources familiar with the situation tell TMZ Shandling died from a massive heart attack, with no prior warning whatsoever”
This alleged cause of death was reported widely.
Radar Online (a site I strongly recommend avoiding) wrote
“According to an insider close to the comedian, “We are hearing that Garry had a massive and sudden heart attack.” and
LAPD, LAFD, Shandling’s rep, and LA coroner Ed Winter all declined to comment on the specifics of Shandling’s passing.
Beware The Insider’s Information
In a post I wrote entitled “Do You Know What is on Garry Shandling’s and Your Parent’s Death certificate?” I pointed out that his cause of death was unknown and that:
Although a heart attack resulting in ventricular fibrillation is the most common cause of a sudden, unexpected death in individuals over the age of 40, it is not the only one.
In fact, People magazine reported that Sanders experienced shortness of breath and pain in his legs just a day before his death, and that he spoke to a doctor friend about his symptoms, who stopped by that night to check on him,
Shortness of breath and pain in the legs raise the possibility of a clot or DVT in the leg, which can break loose and embolize into the pulmonary arteries. Such a pulmonary embolism, if massive, can result in swift and sudden death.
What Did Shandling Die Of?
In a post dated 12/27/2016 (which I was unaware of until last week) TMZ reported the details of Shandling’s medical examination .
It turns out that Shandling did not die of a massive heart attack or an explosion of his heart.
His autopsy revealed that he died from a pulmonary embolism, the disease I had raised as a likely alternative cause of his sudden death in my post in April, 2016. The actual death certificate can be viewed here.
The medical report on his death reveals that Shandling had a prior
history of clots in the leg (s) (DVT) and that previously he had had an IVC filter implanted.
An IVC filter is an umbrella shaped device that is inserted into the major vein draining blood from the the lower half of the body (the inferior vena cava) to physically obstruct the vein and thereby prevent clots from reaching the pulmonary artery. These are used in cases where the normal medical treatment for blood clots (anticoagulants or blood thinners) can’t be utilized due to bleeding risk or have proven ineffective.
Although effective 95% of the time in preventing legs clots from migrating to the pulmonary artery there are reported failures and Shandling was clearly one.
Risk factors for DVT and PE include cancer, surgery and immobility. Shandling, it appears, was recently in Hawaii and long plane flights like the one he must have taken back to LA are notorious causes of immobility that can lead to DVT.
What Can We Learn From Shandling’s Death
Some take home points
-When some one dies suddenly and unexpectedly it is not automatically due to a massive heart attack. Do not assume your family member or spouse who was found dead in bed suffered a myocardial infarction.
-Unless the victim was quite old or had advanced cancer consider asking for an autopsy to find out the true cause of death. Whatever disease caused the death could be inherited by the victim’s offspring.
-Pulmonary embolism can be a rapidly lethal disease. Consider a medical evaluation for it if you are experiencing leg pain/swelling, sudden, unexplained shortness of breath or chest pain which worsens upon taking a breath. If you have risk factors for leg clots or prior leg clots be even more vigilant.
N.B. Carrie Fisher was also reported to have suffered a “massive heart attack” by Radar Online (a most despicable website) and multiple other media outlets:
The Star Wars star, 60, suffered a massive heart attack on a United Airlines Flight from London on December 2, 2016, and was rushed to the hospital in LA upon landing, where she died four days later. Her death certificate was released by the Los Angeles County Department of Health and her cause of death was listed as “cardiac arrest/deferred,” which means it was likely a heart attack, but the final result is pending investigation.
No Radar Online! Cardiac arrest is the final mechanism of almost all deaths no matter what the cause. It does not mean she had a heart attack.
The CDC does not want cardiac arrest listed as a cause on death certificates:
In Part I, the immediate cause of death is reported on line (a). This is the final disease, injury, or complication directly causing the death. An imme diate cause of death must always be reported on line (a). It can be the sole entry in the cause-of-death section if that condition is the only condition causing the death.
The immediate cause does not mean the mechanism of death or terminal event (for example, cardiac arrest or respiratory arrest). The mechanism of death (for example, cardiac or respiratory arrest) should not be reported as the immediate cause of death as it is a statement not specifically related to the disease process, and it merely attests to the fact of death. Therefore, the mechanism of death provides no additional information on the cause of death.