The abrupt health breakdown of country singer Randy Travis suddenly has people aware of the little-known condition called viral cardiomyopathy.
According to TMZ, the 54-year-old country singer had started touring last month when he came down with what he believed was a cold.
Instead, Travis had developed pneumonia and his health declined so rapidly that on Sunday he was airlifted to a Texas hospital, where he was immediately treated for complications stemming from viral cardiomyopathy, a deadly serious condition that currently has him in critical condition.
So now that a perilous new medical concern has entered the public lexicon, what exactly is viral cardiomyopathy? As the name suggests, it's a heart condition created by a viral infection in the heart. Some people are more at risk for viral infections than others, and some of those viruses are more likely to lead to viral cardiomyopathy.
But before you start thinking that little cough is going to put you into the hospital like Randy Travis, remember that viral infections of the heart are not uncommon. The majority of these infections clear up all on their own – particularly in healthy individuals – and leave no residual problems behind.
In some patients, however, the viral infection creates inflammation, which damages the muscles in the heart and causes viral cardiomyopathy.
In most instances, viral cardiomyopathy presents itself as a form of dilated cardiomyopathy, wherein the chambers of the heart actually enlarge and the heart has to work much harder to pump blood through the body.
The devious aspect of the viral cardiomyopathy: The original viral infection may not cause any symptoms, or extremely mild symptoms, in some people, so the patient never seeks further treatment.
As time progresses, the weakening of the heart eventually leads to issues such as dizziness, fatigue and shortness of breath. Only medical imaging can reveal the enlargement of the heart, after which the patient should undergo further testing to assess heart function.
The prognosis for patients with viral cardiomyopathy varies, depending on the severity of the enlargement and the manner of treatment options available. With rare exception, the weakening of the heart will force the patient to make some permanent lifestyle changes. All of which could factor into the current condition of Travis.
Three weeks before entering the hospital, Travis finally completed his court-order rehab stint stemming from a 2012 drunk driving arrest.
In that incident, Travis crashed his car into a construction site and then drunkenly threatened the lives of arresting officers. Earlier that same evening, he allegedly stumbled into a convenience store – naked – to buy cigarettes and then walked out when he realized he didn't have his wallet. Or anyplace to put his wallet.
Two weeks later, Texas police cited Travis for assault after he got into a brawl with a man outside a church. An eyewitness described Travis as "extremely intoxicated."
The very next day, a pickup truck registered to Travis was found wrecked and abandoned in a Texas farm field.
In short, Travis smokes, drinks and by most reports is still stinging from his nasty 2010 divorce from wife-manager Lib Hatcher following 19 years of marriage. Even by the usual country music standards, this good ol' boy has some hard miles on him.
Whether or not Travis's previous bad-boy lifestyle precipitated his current diagnosis of viral cardiomyopathy is a matter better left to his physicians, but there's little doubt he has to change his ways.
Patients with viral cardiomyopathy are normally treated with medication to improve heart function and instructed to make diet and lifestyle changes to optimize heart health.
Smoking and drinking? Forget it. Since the enlarged heart cannot cope with increased oxygen needs, the patient is required to refrain from high-intensity exercise, hard labour and over-exertion in general.
In other words, Travis's days as a honky-tonk hellraiser are over. Forever and ever, amen.