When a 39-year-old man dies suddenly of a heart attack, it's shocking. When the man is a former professional bike racer and top-ranked endurance athlete, the shock is almost overwhelming. This kind of thing just shouldn't happen, we think.
But that apparently is what happened to Steve Larsen, who collapsed and died while training at a Bend school track on May 19. Results of an analysis of his heart performed at a Midwest lab showed that he had coronary artery disease - blockage of arteries that supply the heart.
Larsen hadn't shown any obvious symptoms of heart disease before the fatal attack, although his brother said he had been experiencing shortness of breath while working out - a possible indication that his heart wasn't getting enough blood.
The tragic death of the popular father of five should be a wakeup call for anybody who believes that being physically fit provides guaranteed protection against heart disease. No matter how many miles a day you train or how many triathlons you run, other factors such as diet, blood pressure and heredity are still important.
Regardless of their level of fitness, people should get their cholesterol and blood pressure checked on a regular basis and, if the numbers aren't good, take appropriate measures to improve them. For somebody who has a family history of heart disease or other risk factors, getting a coronary calcium scan also might not be a bad idea. The test, which reveals deposits of calcium in coronary arteries, is painless, non-invasive and fairly inexpensive.
Also, the National Cholesterol Education Program has published a brief on-line test to help people check their heart attack risk.