Sunday, August 9, 2015

Medical Monday - William Barrett's Cause of Death

William Barrett's Death Certificate
William Barrett died at the age of 36 and left behind his wife, Carrie Barrett nee Bittenbender, and three little children: Marie, William Jr, and Thomas.

The first thing that came to mind when I saw "regurgitation" was that he drank too much and vomited in his sleep. I never realized that regurgitation could be associated with the heart. Vomiting was all that I thought of. The contributory cause "ordema (sic) of lungs" seems to me like it should be edema which is fluid in the lungs.

I searched ordema of lungs just in case and Google promptly guided me to edema. That doesn't make it right, but I then decided to type in "regurgitation with edema of lungs secondary cause of death" and I got a top hit of "Mitral regurgitation." Mitral certainly looks like the first word under the cause of death here. So his mitral heart valve wasn't working properly for three months causing blood to leak back into the heart thus causing it to work harder. From what I've read on pulmonary edema it seems that it can be brought on by heart problems so the connection isn't surprising. Small leaks caused by the mitral valve not working properly aren't supposed to be a problem, but larger ones are and will weaken the heart resulting in heart failure if not treated. From the website I was reading it seems that aside from monitoring a person's condition treatment involved to repair or replace the mitral valve. Just a guess, but I don't really think that was much of an option in 1915.

As I've mentioned before with these medical posts, I'm no doctor so it's difficult for me to make even an educated guess as to what happened, but it would have been nice to know what caused the heart problem to begin with. He was being treated for it for just over three months but did he have it for much longer and it was just diagnosed late? Possible, but that's terrible luck to live with something for 36 years only to die from it right after diagnosis. A heart attack, calcium build-up, and infections such as rheumatic fever could have weakened the heart and caused the problem with the mitral valve. This certainly seems more feasible and could account for the death a few months down the road. What bothers me is that no infection or previous heart issue was listed as a contributory cause of death. To me it certainly would have been, but I don't know what they knew about the heart in 1915.

I know there is little point in wondering why the mitral issues occurred. It occurred and no amount of wondering changes that. It's cases like these when someone was taken at such a young age that I want to know why. Why did it happen and force him to leave behind three children under 5 years of age? I can't change those things, but I do tend to obsess over them and my heart always goes out to the family.

William Barrett was my 2nd great uncle. He was the son of Patrick and Bridget Barrett nee Farley. He was born on June 4th 1878 and baptized in St. Gabriel's Roman Catholic Church. He was 36 when he died as confirmed by the 1880 census and his baptismal record, not 33 as the death certificate states (without a date of birth listed). Tragedy would strike again in another 10 years.