You CAN die of heartbreak: Texas massacre widow passes from grief

You really CAN die of heartbreak: As widower of Texas teacher shot in school massacre succumbs to ‘broken heart’, doctors explain how organ can shut down from stress of bereavement

  • Joe Garcia died from broken heart syndrome after wife died in school shooting
  • His family said Mr Garcia’s loss of his wife of 25 years was ‘too much to bear’
  • Others have suffered the syndrome following breakups and bereavements 

The family of a widower whose wife was shot dead in the Texas school massacre say he died from a ‘broken heart’.

Joe Garcia, 43, was pronounced dead on Thursday, just hours after visiting the memorial site in Uvalde where his wife Irma was slain two days earlier.

While preparing for the funeral, Mr Garcia collapsed and died. 

Although the exact circumstances have not been revealed yet, Mrs Garcia’s cousin Debra Austin said: ‘I truly believe Joe died of a broken heart and losing the love of his life of more than 25 years was too much to bear.’

Broken heart syndrome is a real phenomenon.

The condition occurs when the body is overwhelmed with stress hormones such as adrenaline and noradrenaline, according to Helen Wilson, head of research at charity Heart Research UK.

Excess adrenaline can weaken the heart muscle and thin the arteries, significantly reducing its ability to pump blood around the body.

When the body does not have enough blood, vital organs can shut down.

Broken heart syndrome, medically known as takotsubo cardiomyopathy, affects up to 3,000 Britons and 11,000 Americans every year. Bereavement, divorce and even bankruptcy can be triggers.

But it’s not usually fatal and most patients recovering within weeks. Just one per cent are estimated to die from the condition.

Joe Garcia (right), who was married to fourth grade teacher Irma Garcia (left) died on Thursday from a broken heart, his family claim 

Broken heart syndrome, medically known as takotsubo cardiomyopathy, affects around 3,000 Britons and 11,000 Americans every year. It causes part of the heart to enlarge to resemble a ‘Japanese octopus trap’

Broken heart syndrome, known medically as stress-induced cardiomyopathy or takotsubo syndrome, happens when the heart fails because of extreme stress.

It is usually triggered by an emotional event such as the death of a loved one.

The condition affects around 3,000 people a year in the UK and 11,000 in the US, and is more common among women than men.

It causes part of the heart to become temporarily enlarged, preventing the organ from pumping blood properly. It can cause it to stop altogether.

Although broken heart syndrome is not triggered by disease – it isn’t linked to blocked arteries or high blood pressure – it is believed to be able to cause long-lasting damage by weakening the heart and affecting its pumping motion.  

Spokesperson for Cardiomyopathy UK, Dr Daniel Hammersley, said: ‘Patients who develop this condition generally experience symptoms of chest pain or breathlessness.

‘Fortunately, in the vast majority of cases the heart muscle function recovers within a few weeks. It is a rare condition overall. Most frequently it affects people in their 50s or 60s, although it has been seen in other age groups.’

Sources: Cardiomyopathy UK and the American Heart Association

Professor Sian Harding, a cardiac pharmacology expert at Imperial College London, told MailOnline the surge of adrenaline from emotional shock is ‘well known’ as part of broken heart syndrome.

‘Bereavement is often a trigger, but the hugely shocking and tragic circumstances here would have magnified the effect,’ she said. 

Takotsubo’s symptoms can feel similar to a heart attack, causing sudden and intense chest pain, shortness of breath and palpitations.

But the rare condition is not caused by blocked arteries — as heart attacks generally are. 

Instead, the rush of adrenaline shuts down the bottom of the left ventricle, its main pumping chamber. 

Unable to contract, the bottom of the ventricle balloons outwards.

This characteristic shape is visible on X-rays of the heart and is key in diagnosing the syndrome. 

It’s what led Japanese researchers in 1990 to name it after a ‘takotsubo’ — a traditional narrow-necked, wide-bottomed pot used to trap octopuses when fishing.

Mr Garcia, who was also a teacher, was filmed visiting a memorial to his late wife with red roses two days after her death just hours before his own. 

At one point, Mr Garcia was seen weeping as he was overcome with the week’s horrific events. 

John Martinez, Mrs Garcia’s nephew, said Mr Garcia died from ‘grief’ after returning home from delivering flowers to a memorial for his late wife.

But he also told the New York Times that his uncle had died from a heart attack. 

A GoFundMe page set up to help their four orphaned children — Cristian, 23; Jose, 19; Lyliana, 16; and Alysandra, 12 — has so far collected more than $1.7 million (£1.35million).

Broken heart syndrome is difficult to diagnose and is often mistaken for a heart attack.

Blood tests and scans are usually required to confirm it.  It is usually temporary and most patients recover within a few weeks. 

Helen Ross, from Canterbury in Kent, almost died from a broken heart in 2006 after discovering her partner of seven years was leaving her for a friend.

Just days after the breakup, the model collapsed on a work trip to Orlando, Florida on the first day of a shoot.

Staff on the photo shoot called an ambulance and she was rushed to hospital, where she woke up 30 minutes later. 

Doctors informed her that her heart had stopped beating twice and were dumbfounded at her case as she was a healthy young woman. 

They asked if she had experienced a recent trauma which might have triggered the heart problem and, when she explained the break-up, they diagnosed her with broken heart syndrome.

Ms Ross said at the time: ‘I told them how hard the break-up had been for me, how devastated I was and they nodded and immediately said it was to blame. 

She added: ‘I felt distraught by the break up, but I didn’t realise it had actually broken my heart.’

When back in the UK, Ms Ross was fitted with a pacemaker to regulate her heart, which she had removed in 2014 after no further complications. 

The condition can also be treated with medication, such as beta blockers and ACE inhibiters to take the strain off the heart and make it work more effectively.

Blood thinners may also be prescribed to reduce the risk of developing clots, which can cause a stroke.

Broken heart syndrome is usually a temporary and most patients recover within a few weeks. 

Another British woman was struck by the condition twice.

Sarah Woodward, a veterinary nurse, suffered a stabbing pain at her chest while at work in 2018, after receiving a phone call to say her best friend’s father had died. 

Ms Woodward, from Worthing, West Sussex, said: ‘I’d known him for 45 years. It was like losing my own father.’

Her chest pain spread to her back, jaw and down her left arm and she was struggling to breathe  — all classic signs of a heart attack.

But after being rush to hospital in an ambulance, tests confirmed she was actually suffering from broken heart syndrome. 

She was prescribed ACE inhibitors, beta blockers and blood thinners.

However, she became the one in 10 patients who suffer a recurrence of broken heart syndrome.

Around three years after her first episode, she felt the same stabbing pain in her chest after receiving upsetting news about an unrelated medical condition. 

She now suffers from ongoing chest pain and breathlessness and lives in fear of having another attack.  

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