John Ritter died from an undiagnosed and undetected heart flaw called an aortic dissection. He was just six days from his 55th birthday when he fell ill while rehearsing lines on the set of 8 Simple Rules… for Dating My Teenage Daughter.
His surviving wife, Amy Yasbeck, and his family filed lawsuits in the case claiming his death could have been prevented. Yasbeck also formed The John Ritter Foundation to educate the public about aortic dissection and to assist those effected by the condition.
Ritter was best known for his role as Jack Tripper on the 70s and 80s classic, Three’s Company. An ABC special, Superstar: John Ritter, will discuss his life, death and legacy. It airs Wednesday, August 25, 2021, at 10 p.m. Eastern time.
Here’s what you need to know:
Ritter’s Wife, Amy Yasbeck, Described His Final Hours in Testimony for a Wrongful Death Lawsuit
Yasbeck testified about the last hours of her husband’s life during a wrongful death lawsuit alleging two doctors were negligent in his care. She said she was called to the hospital in Burbank, California, and doctors told her Ritter was having a heart attack and needed an angiogram, according to CBC. Ritter wanted a second opinion, the article said.
“Dr. Lee said: ‘No, there’s no time. You’re in the middle of a heart attack,”‘ Yasbeck testified, according to CBC.
“I leaned down to John’s ear and said: ‘I know you’re scared but you have to be brave and do this because these guys know what they’re doing.’ And he was brave for all the time I saw him,” Yasbeck testified, according to the CBC report.
She mouthed the words “I love you” as he was being wheeled away, she testified, according to the article. Surgery was performed on Ritter, but his aorta was “shredded,” the article said. Soon, his family learned he had died.
“He said it was over and John’s dead, that they worked on John for a long time but the damage was done by the time he got there. It was a fait accompli and John was dead,” Yasbeck testified, according to CBC.
The doctors, Dr. Joseph Lee and Dr. Matthew Lotysch, were cleared of any wrongdoing, and the family lost their $67 million lawsuit. However, they won previous lawsuits filed in Ritter’s death, and his death changed the way doctors detect and treat aortic dissection, according to Columbia Surgery.
An Aortic Dissection Is Often Misdiagnosed As a Heart Attack, Which Can Delay Life-Saving Care
The symptoms of an aortic dissection can mimic the symptoms of a heart attack, Columbia Surgery reported. When Ritter was brought into the hospital, they began treatment for a heart attack. However, the misdiagnosis delayed his care, the article said.
Columbia Surgery explains:
Aortic dissections occur when the inner wall of the aorta becomes torn. Like other arteries, the Aorta is essentially a hollow tube that carries blood away from the heart. The walls of that tube are made up of three layers: an inner layer, a middle layer, and an outer layer. When the inner layer rips, blood can get redirected into the tear itself, creating a pocket in between the inner layer and the middle layer. Instead of going to vital organs like the brain, liver and kidneys, this blood is trapped within the aorta’s walls. And as more blood gets trapped, the tear itself gets bigger, worsening the problem. That can lead to a stroke (if not enough blood reaches the brain), damage to the heart’s valves (if the dissection extends to the area where the aorta comes off the heart), and most deadly of all, a complete tear through the entire wall of the aorta—also called an aortic rupture.
Once the condition was properly diagnosed, doctors operated and tried to repair the dissection, the article said. However, the surgery was unsuccessful. He died September 11, 2003.