The skeptical cardiologist watched a little bit of the Judd Apatow HBO Documentary on Garry Shandling last night. For fans of the comedian like me, it is fascinating. As I watched I was reminded of two posts I had written about the cause of his death and the physician detective in me searched for clues to his ultimate demise.
Right after his sudden death at the age of 66, media sources reported that he had died of a massive heart attack “according to insiders.”
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”
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.
I wrote another post on this after his autopsy was released.
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.
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.
Watching the Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling gave me no further insights into his death. Sudden death typically happens without warning to the victim and even those who are closest to him/her.
N.B. In the second post I talked about Carrie Fisher’s death (also widely reported falsely as due to a “massive heart attack”) and speculated that we might never know the cause of her death because I anticipated that her autopsy (with toxicology) would not be released.
I was right about her not dying of a “massive heart attack” .
Her cause of death was listed as sleep apnea with other factors.
The other factors appear to be LOTS of drugs:
“Fisher’s toxicology review found evidence of cocaine, methadone, MDMA (better known as ecstasy), alcohol and opiates when she was rushed to Ronald Reagan UCLA Hospital on Dec. 23, a toxicology report showed.”
No autopsy was done per family request but CT scanning was performed.