Iconic Health Lessons
Part 2 of 2. David Bowie. Prince. George Michael. Muhammad Ali.
George Michael Dangerous Heart Rhythms
How could handsome and seemingly fit George Michael die at 53 from heart failure? We usually associate heart failure with the very elderly. But while at press time a full postmortem report is not available, sudden death from heart failure may not be the whole story.
"Very few things cause healthy people to die suddenly. I suspect he may have had a serious underlying health issue that led to his acute heart issue,” Dr Dan Bensimhon, medical director of the Advanced Heart Failure & Mechanical Circulatory Support Program at Cone Health System in Greensboro, North Carolina, told CBS News. “People don’t typically die suddenly from heart failure. Progressive heart failure is a slow, insidious process through which people are very symptomatic with shortness of breath, weakness and swelling. That said, people with weak hearts which cause heart failure are predisposed to dangerous heart rhythms which can kill them suddenly and that is why we place implantable defibrillators (ICDs) in these patients. I suspect the announcement that he died from heart failure is not the complete story.”
What we do know is that Michael admitted to smoking up to 25 marijuana joints a day and he had been hospitalized in 2011 while on tour in Vienna for Symphonica for life-threatening pneumonia.
“His lungs never fully recovered,” the Mirror reported from an unnamed source. “That can happen after a serious bout of pneumonia like George had. Sometimes it leaves the lung scarred or damaged, which can lead to a loss of function. Part of the lung basically doesn’t work anymore. It can leave you feeling breathless, as the lungs have a smaller capacity than before.”
Michael said in 2014 he had given up smoking. But quitting didn’t last long and his friends said he had started up again. In 2015 he went through rehab at a Swiss clinic, having a long history of crack cocaine abuse. The Daily Telegraph reported he had been hospitalized for heroin use. And, pretty much like the two others, he had shut his family out of his life.
Muhammad Ali Brain Injuries
When we were kids in America, football and boxing produced our sports royalty. Both sports’ heroes have since paid the price with neurological diseases linked with concussions. Muhammad Ali’s death from Parkinson’s disease was no mystery and serves to show why we need to take care to protect against head concussions—and chemical exposures.
Ali survived three decades with his disease before he succumbed at the age of 74 to septic shock as a complication from a lung infection caused by the whole body inflammation of the underlying disorder. While some researchers speculate that Ali’s genetic makeup may have predisposed him to the disease since he was diagnosed so early at age 42, no one else in his family is known to have this disease and we all know his rope-a-dope ring style allowed him to absorb direct hits, a strategy that led him to regain his world champion status against George Foreman when he took a pounding for most of the fight to tire out the big man in later rounds.
In a 2013 review study in the journal Movement Disorders people with head trauma including concussions were 57% more likely to develop Parkinson's disease than people who never experienced them. And injuries that specifically damage the part of the brain that contains dopamine-producing cells, called the substantia nigra, can also lead to Parkinson’s.
But his family blames pesticides, too, which have been linked to this disease.
“I believe it might have been a combination of head trauma from boxing and pesticides,” his oldest daughter told The Los Angeles Times. “He was exposed to a lot of pesticides at the Deer Lake training camp [in Pennsylvania].”
The truth is—barring events completely out of our control—each of us is living with the cause of our death or, if we do things right, behaviors that will lead to long and healthy living.