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This Is Us' 'Widow Maker' Had Hearts Pounding

illustration of heart attack
From the WebMD Archives

Feb. 6, 2018 -- The down-to-the-last-play ending of Sunday’s Super Bowl was supposed to be the cardiac crisis of the night.

But for fans of the NBC show This is Us, which aired right after the game, the most wrenching heart attack was fictional.

Jack Pearson, the steadfast and devoted husband and father on the show, died of a “widow maker” heart attack after rescuing his family and their dog from their burning home. It was quite the emotional yo-yo: He survived the fire, and all seemed well until he died suddenly hours later. The TV doctor said the smoke damaged Jack’s lungs, which led to heart damage, too.

In reality, widow maker heart attacks happen when the heart's left anterior descending artery -- or LAD -- is damaged or blocked. The damage or blockage denies a large part of the heart of oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood, and a “widow maker” heart attack may happen. The nickname comes from the very low survival rate for these kinds of heart attacks. Both women and men can have them.

“Blockage of the LAD specifically has a higher mortality rate than blockage of the other arteries,” says Amar Krishnaswamy, MD, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic. “Patients who present with acute blockage or heart attack that’s the result of the LAD tends to be called the widow maker.”

A cardiologist can test to see whether the left anterior descending artery is diseased, with either a cardiac stress test or a more comprehensive coronary angiogram, which uses dye to find blockages.

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD


Cleveland Clinic: “The ‘Widow Maker’ of Coronary Artery Disease.”

Cleveland Clinic: “How You Can Outsmart the Widow Maker Artery.”

Texas Heart Institute: “When speaking of heart disease, what is the Widowmaker?”

Entertainment Weekly: “This Is Us recap: 'Super Bowl Sunday.' ”

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