We cannot but commend the effort being made to counteract unreasoned fear, but the best way to accomplish this is not by pointing out that many of those who have heart attacks will recover, but by following a program of living that protects us against the onset of these attacks. James Reston9 very wisely pointed out that while many recover, many others do not, and quoted Dr. Henry Kirkland, Chief Medical Director of the Prudential Insurance Company, who in a paper Prognosis in Heart Disease, read only four months before President Eisenhowers attack, stated, The occurrence of a documented acute coronary episode is of extremely serious moment. Sudden death is frequent. Death within a few months is common. It is only when the patient enters the third year that his chances of survival tend to brighten appreciably.
Dr. Ancel Keys, Director of the Laboratory of Physiological Hygiene, University of Minnesota, dealing with the same subject, pointed out that several thousand Americans had heart attacks on September 24, 1955, the day President Eisenhower was stricken, and that the President was merely one of the lucky ones, for close to a thousand of his fellow citizens died of coronary heart disease that day.
And it was a below average day. In recent years, the average daily toll from coronary deaths in the United States is considerably over 1000, Dr. Keys continued.
There is no reason why we should resign ourselves to the idea that a coronary attack at about fifty, or even sixty-five, is a normal expectation, for the right diet, correct eating habits, and moderation in living can keep our heart and arteries young and healthy even in the seventies and eighties.
That this disease does not show up suddenly but develops gradually over a period of time can be seen from our findings on the Korean battlefields, where the heart and coronary arteries of a number of young men who were killed in battle were analysed. In one series of 300 cases in which the average age was 22 years, the incidence of diseased coronary arteries was 77-3 per cent.u
The New York Times, on October 20, 1955, reported that a leading film actor, age forty-one, had succumbed instantaneously of a coronary thrombosis while shaving, and that his family physician stated that the actor had been in good health and had no history of a heart condition.
Whenever confronted by a statement of this kind it is well to reflect on the statement by Dr. White, who pointed out that a coronary thrombosis usually does not develop suddenly but builds up over a period of years. This is true even though the attack occurs most unexpectedly, and even though the degenerative changes have not been recognised by either patient or doctor.