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Tom Petty's Heart Attack

Tom PettyTom Petty was a rock singer, songwriter and record producer who was the lead singer of  the Heartbreakers, the Traveling Wilburys and Mudcrutch.  He was one of the best-selling music artists of all time, with more than 80 million records sold over his 40-year career.  He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. 
 
He died on October 2, 2017, at the very young age of 66 of a heart attack that was probably brought on by his use of various drugs and the stressful life of a successful rock star.  He would go on the road for months, traveling constantly from city to city, giving nightly concerts, fighting off adoring fans, and then trying to compose new songs the next day.  A typical world tour would include 60 or more concerts. He certainly felt the pressure.  During one recording session he punched a wall so hard that he broke bones in his left hand and had difficulty playing his guitar for months.  At age 30, he was on a national tour when his beloved mother was hospitalized.  To avoid being seen by fans, he snuck into the hospital and entered his mother's room to find her near death.  A nurse had tried to comfort her by placing newspaper articles about him on her bed.
 
What Drove Him to Work So Hard
Petty grew up in Gainesville, Florida with a loving mother and a horribly abusive father who beat him mercilessly for the slightest misbehavior.  At age five, he hit a Cadillac with a rock from his slingshot, and his father took off his belt and gave him a beating that left him bruised and sore for weeks.  Many years later, he remembered that his mother and grandmother "laid me in my bed, stripped me, and they took cotton and alcohol, cleaning these big welts all over my body."  He did very poorly in school and was always at the bottom of his class. 
 

In 1961, his uncle was working in nearby Ocala on the set of Elvis Presley's film Follow That Dream, and invited 10-year-old Tom to watch the filming. He loved the sound of rock and roll and when he got back home, he traded his slingshot for a collection of Elvis records.  At age 12, he got his first guitar, and when he saw the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, he decided that he definitely wanted to become a musician.   He switched to an electric guitar, grew his hair long and started playing music with his friends in their garages.   At age 15, he joined his first band, the Sundowners.  He dropped out of high school at age 17 and the closest he ever got to college was working as a grounds keeper at the University of Florida.  He also worked as a grave digger during the years before he could make enough money with his music.  At age 20 he started Mudcrutch and at age 26, he formed the Heartbreakers and they played together on and off for more than 40 years
 
Heroin and Cocaine 
Rock musicians suffer from a very high rate of drug use.  Many rock musicians take amphetamines, cocaine, heroin and other drugs because it is widely believed that stimulants are necessary for success.   They feel that drugs help them to have louder and more emotional voices, move more freely on stage and communicate better with their audiences.  They are also often so exhausted from their demanding schedules that they use drugs to help them perform when they have not recovered from their previous night's effort. 
 

The Heartbreakers had already kicked out bassist Howie Epstein for his use of heroin and cocaine that eventually killed him in 2003.  Petty claimed that he never abused alcohol, but that he did use heroin, cocaine and reefers (marijuana).  He was also a heavy cigarette smoker.
 
In Hollywood on September 25, 2017, the Heartbreakers played the last show of the series of their 40th anniversary tour.   One week later, early in the morning, Petty was found unconscious, not breathing and with no pulse, in his Malibu home.  He was rushed to the UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica. He was taken off life support after his brain wave test went flat at 8:40 that evening.
 

Links Between Recreational Drugs and Heart Attacks
Drugs such as cocaine, heroin and amphetamines can lead to heart attacks, seizures, and respiratory arrest (Clin Med Res, Oct, 2007;5(3):172–176).   A heart attack usually occurs when a plaque breaks off in an artery.  Where the plaque was,  the inner lining of the artery bleeds and clots, and the clot can comletely block the flow of blood to a part of the heart muscle.  Deprived of oxygen, that part of the heart muscle dies, which is a heart attack.
 
Cocaine users are 42 percent more likely to suffer heart attacks than non-users (Am Heart J, 1990;120:1403–1408).  Use of cocaine can:
• raise heart attack risk factors in young healthy people: high blood pressure, aortic stiffness, left ventricular mass (PLOS One, April 9, 2014)
• decrease blood flow in arteries leading to the heart (N Engl J Med, 1989;321:1557–1562)
• cause plaques to form in arteries of both humans and animals (Circulation, 1992;85:407–419)
• cause clots to form in and block arteries, even when there are almost no plaques present (JAMA, 1985;254:95–96; Chest 1997;111:822–824; Heart, 2000;83:688–695).
 
The National Institutes of Health reports that that the number of recreational drug users age 50 and older has more than tripled in the last decade, from 900,000 to more than three million.  The baby boomers who tried drugs when they were younger are now in their 50s and early 60s, and many are still using or returning to drugs they used in their younger years.   Recreational drug users often pay a very steep price that may include premature death.
 

October 20, 1950 - October 2, 2017  
October 15th, 2017
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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