Seventy-seven-year-old Roger Ailes had hemophilia, a genetic inability to clot normally, so when he fell at his home on May 10, 2017, and hit his head, he bled into his brain which caused a subdural hematoma. The massive bleeding and tremendous pressure squashed his brain and killed him eight days later.
Ailes was one of the most influential men in the United States as the media consultant for presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Donald Trump, and as founder and former Chairman and CEO of Fox News and Television Stations Group. He hired republican politicians such as Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, John Kasich, Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum and right-wing commentators such as Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, expandiing Fox News so they had two million more viewers than CNN and MSNBC combined. In July 2016, he was forced to resign from Fox News because of allegations that he sexually harassed several female employees, including news anchors Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly.
A Life with Hemophilia
Ailes grew up in the factory town of Warren, Ohio. His father was a factory maintenance foreman who was abusive to his wife and children and his parents divorced in 1960, when Roger was 20. He majored in radio and television in college and served as the student radio station manager for WOUB at Ohio University in Athens. He used his work in the media to become a consultant to people running for office and then went on to become CEO at Fox News. He was divorced twice and in 1998 at age 58 married his third wife and at age 60 had his first child.
He was diagnosed with a genetic bleeding disease called hemophilia at age two when he fell, cut his tongue, and almost bled to death. Everyone bleeds when they cut or bump themselves, but you have chemicals and cells in your bloodstream that cause clots to form that stop the bleeding. Hemophilia means that you lack certain chemicals that form clots and therefore every time you cut or bang yourself, you are in danger of bleeding yourself into shock and dying.
Today we have drugs to help treat hemophilia, but at the time he was diagnosed, the average hemophiliac lived only 11 years, so Ailes spent the rest of his life knowing that a simple fall could kill him. From early childhood he suffered from bleeding excessively from minor bumps, often ending up in hospitals and sometimes needing blood transfusions. His later years were marked by repeated crises. A simple scrape of his ankle against a desk could cause him to sit through a meeting with a shoe full of blood. With no warning, he would bleed into his knees and hips, and he ended up with life-long painful arthritis that caused him to walk with a limp. He told reporters many times that he expected a premature death.
Hemophiliacs Are at Reduced Risk for Heart Attacks
I do not have access to Ailes’s medical records, so the following is a general discussion of the relationship between hemophilia, heart attacks and lifestyle. Hemophiliacs who survive beyond childhood have a difficult time maintaining a healthful lifestyle because they are justifiably afraid of any type of physical activity. Ailes also could not exercise because of his terrible arthritis caused by bleeding into his joints. He was morbidly obese in later life and was most likely diabetic (photos show that he stored most of his fat in his belly).
However, hemophiliacs are less likely than the average North American to have heart attacks (Blood, 2007;110:815–825) or to die from a heart attack (J Thromb Haemost, Feb 2009;7(2):247-54), even though they typically have significant amounts of plaque in their arteries (Haemophilia, 2009;15(6):1197–1209), the same rate of arteriosclerosis (Thrombosis and Haemostasis, 2010; 8:208–2110), and the same rate of heart attack risk factors as the general population (American Journal of Hematology 2005; 79:36–42). Clotting causes heart attacks and hemophiliacs have a markedly reduced ability to form clots. A 99 percent blockage of an artery leading to the heart does not cause a heart attack because heart attacks are not caused by narrowed arteries. They are caused by a sudden complete blockage of blood flow to the heart muscle. First a plaque breaks off from the inner lining of an artery leading to the heart muscle. Then there is bleeding, a clot forms at the site, and the clot extends to block completely the flow of blood through that artery. Then the heart muscle dies from complete lack of oxygen, the dead heart muscle causes irregular heartbeats that stop pumping blood to the brain, and the person’s brain dies from lack of oxygen. Since hemophiliacs suffer from decreased clotting, they are at reduced risk for heart attacks. However, an unhealthy lifestyle will set them up for all sorts of complications because the same risk factors for a heart attack also increase risk for damaging every organ in the body.
Facts about Hemophilia
• About 20,000 individuals in the U.S. have hemophilia
• Most types of hemophilia are genetic and are usually X-linked recessive disorders so females are rarely affected.
• Hemophilia occurs in about 1 of 5000 male births
• Treatment: The missing clotting factors can be replaced with drugs made from human blood or recombinant methods, but the process is expensive and must be done regularly. Gene therapy studies are underway.
• Prevention: In a family known to carry hemophilia, a prospective mother can have eggs extracted, fertilized and tested for the genetic defect, and then have the non-defective embryo(s) implanted in the uterus.
Dr. Gabe Mirkin is a Villager. Learn more at www.drmirkin.com