What Tim Russert Has Taught Us About Healthcare and a Healthy Life

Tim RussertLike so many of you, my heart breaks at the loss of Tim Russert. On so many levels, we felt a kinship to him. Anyone who has tried to understand American politics or politicians during the past 20 years has gotten to know Tim Russert, as if he were the trusted friend and neighbor who could help us “get” it.

Our world is now less because we don’t have Tim. And It occurs to me that there are some final lessons we can learn about healthcare from him. Just as he helped us understand politics, he can help us better understand healthcare and a healthy life — as follows:

It turns out that Tim was quite watchful over his heart disease. He had been diagnosed, and was under a doctor’s care. He took his meds, he watched his diet, he exercised, and he got his regular check ups. He was a vigilant patient. Our lesson: being a vigilant patient, doing our best to prevent problems, following all the rules for good health, doesn’t mean life won’t still be too short.

We’ve learned that no matter how many studies exist, no matter what tests can be run, no matter what drugs are available, no matter how well we manage our diets and exercise, there are aspects of a body’s function that just can’t be controlled. Our lesson: Medical science still has a very long way to go.

We’ve learned that good quality medical care doesn’t always translate to a longer healthier life. Yes, I think that over a population of people, better care equals a longer life — BUT — Tim had the best care available in this country, and he died way too young, in his prime. Perhaps without that good care, he would have died even younger? We’ll never know… Our lesson: having good medical care is a plus, but it’s only one tool in determining longevity.

We’ve learned that even the best medical care can’t make up for 1) bad genes or 2) bad choices or 3) extreme stress — any or all. What we don’t know is whether Tim was a smoker when he was younger, or whether he survived on hamburgers and greasy pizza before he turned 55. We don’t know if there was heart disease in his family. We can assume his life was quite stressful. Our lesson: we can’t expect medical miracles to overcome bad genes, heavy stress or bad choices.

Tim taught us that we just never know when our final moment will be — and we need to be prepared. His family was the most important part of his life. He left this world making sure they knew exactly how much he loved them — his dad, his wife and his son. Our lesson: At any moment in life, be sure those you love know just how much you love them. It’s important for your own health, and their health and well-being, too.

Tim had very strong spiritual beliefs, and surrounded himself with spiritual people. In the difficult times, believing in a higher being can be very comforting. His family will find some comfort in the coming years based on that faith, too. Our lesson: Life can be enhanced, health can be supported, and comfort can be found through spiritual beliefs.

Finally, we’ve learned from Tim that one’s legacy is about character and a zestful approach to life. We have to believe that in that instant the heart attack struck, when his life passed before him, he knew it was all good, and he would not have changed one moment of who he was, who he loved, what he had accomplished, and the experiences he had enjoyed. Our lesson: live life to its fullest, with spirit, grace, and zest.

My prayers are with his family — His dad Big Russ, his wife Maureen, his son Luke, and his co-workers at NBC. We were all lucky to have him while we did. And we can all thank him for these final lessons about living a quality — and healthy — life.

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Trisha Torrey
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