The sudden death of NBC's Tim Russert last Friday has been covered extensively, but the details of what could have caused his heart attack are starting to emerge. According to the New York Times, Russert had a history of coronary artery disease, high blood pressure and an enlarged heart (cardiomyopathy). In particular, cardiomyopathy and coronary artery disease are linked to sudden cardiac death syndrome, where death occurs within minutes of the first symptoms of heart attack.
There's a question as to whether or not an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) was present in NBC's newsroom. According to Russert's cardiologist, in an interview on CNN, there was an AED present, but it wasn't used; according to other reports, there wasn't an AED available, and CPR was administered by an intern. In either case, by the time paramedics arrived and defibrillated Russert, it was too late. One of the big advantages of AEDs is that they sense the presence or absence of a heartbeat and only shock the heart if a shock is needed, so there would have been no risk to Russert in using it.
In any event, there's an enormous lesson in this tragic event: An AED should be in every television station and in every electronic newsgathering truck, and all full-time station employees should be trained on how to use them. AEDs can be purchased for as little as $1,000; they're cheap insurance. I'd like to see either the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) or the Radio and Television News Directors' Association (RTNDA) get behind an effort to distribute AEDs in Russert's name. If even one life is saved with an AED, the effort will be worth it.