Celebrity

John Ritter's Widow Opens Up About The Rare Disease That Killed The Actor

Amy Yasbeck/Instagram

15 years ago, the world lost one of its most beloved TV dads with the passing of John Ritter.

The 8 Simple Rules For Dating My Teenage Daughter star died suddenly at the age of 54 from what was initially believed to be a heart attack.

Turns out, he had been living with an undiagnosed aortic dissection.

ABC

A Silent Killer

Often called a "silent killer," the serious condition occurs when "the inner layer of the aorta, the large blood vessel branching off the heart, tears." The symptoms are usually hard to spot because they disguise as other disease, but if detected early and treated, the chance of survival improves by a large margin.

In Ritter's case, he was transported to a medical center after he complained of not feeling well during rehearsals. Doctors gave him blood thinners, which should never be given to someone with internal bleeding, and he died later that evening while on set.

The Three's Company star happened to be one of 15,000 people in the United States who die every year from the often misdiagnosed disease, but his death has not been in vain.

After the actor died, his widow Amy Yasbeck started a foundation in his name to raise awareness about the relatively uncommon ailment.

The John Ritter Foundation

In a recent interview with Healthline, the actress opened up about her shocking loss and the work she has been doing through the John Ritter Foundation, including raising money for research and educating people about aortic dissection.

Yasbeck, who filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the hospital and doctors who treated her husband, has made it her mission to prevent another family from losing a family member in the manner that she did.

"When aortic dissection is confused with heart disease, it’s fatal," Yasbeck told Healthline.

The Ritter Rules

While talking to the Washington Post last year, she revealed the strategy the foundation teamed up with the Thoracic Aortic Disease (TAD) Coalition and came up with a set of rules that'll help people recognize the signs of aortic dissection.

"We’ve created this thing called “Ritter Rules” — 10 rules that are culled from the actual guidelines for the treatment of aortic dissection," she explained. "That were not around when John passed away. They were published in 2010 by a group that I’m involved with."

Among the symptoms is sharp pain, which happens suddenly and usually affects the chest, neck, back, or stomach. It's one of the first signs that something is wrong.

Since the risk of death rises by one percent every hour, if a person suspects they have an aortic dissection, they should seek medical intervention immediately. According to the foundation, only a CT Scan, MRI, or a Transesophageal echocardiogram can detect the condition, so it's imperative that doctors order these tests instead of simply performing an X-rar or EKG.

As with many other diseases, family history plays a role. There's higher risk if aortic dissection runs in the family, so Yasbeck urges those with genetic risks to get tested early on.

Other possible causes include drug use, poorly managed blood pressure, and injuries to the chest area.

"I try to be specific and real about the risk," the Wings alum said.

Although Yasbeck's work is benefiting people across the country, she's also gaining something from it. Working with the John Ritter Foundation allows her to keep connected to her late husband.

"I share his world with others, and that allows me to never run out of him," she said.

Ritter is missed to this day, but we're thankful for all the amazing work Yasbeck has been doing in his name to help other people.

Awa has been writing for Shared for 3 years. She is a serial snacker who unapologetically loves celebrity gossip. Drop her a line at awa@shared.com.