John Ritter was treated for a heart attack but that had been a misdiagnosis. He died after his request for a second opinion was ignored.
There is no easy way to explain to your child that their other parent will not be returning home and they're gone forever. It can be one of the hardest things a parent has to do while grappling with the idea that they are going to be a single parent. Comic actor John Ritter's widow, actress Amy Yasbeck, was burdened with the responsibility of telling their then 5-year-old daughter that her father passed away on her birthday.
Ritter, who had become famous with the 1970s sitcom Three's Company, had been enjoying a resurgence in popularity with Eight Simple Rules...for Dating My Teenage Daughter. On the set of the latter show, he felt sick on September 11, 2003, and was rushed to a hospital in Burbank, California. He had been on the set for rehearsals when he experienced nausea and vomiting. It was also his daughter, Stella's fifth birthday, according to TODAY.
He went to St. Joseph's hospital at 6 pm and Yasbeck received a call asking her to go there. She was told that her husband was having an angiogram to treat his heart attack. Ritter asked the doctor who was treating him for a second opinion but Dr. Joseph Lee said, "No, there's no time. You're in the middle of a heart attack," Yasbeck testified. She had sued Dr. Lee and radiologist, Dr. Matthew Lotysch in a wrongful death suit, according to CBC.
Yasbeck said the father-of-four felt bad that he was "ruining Stella’s birthday," as per TODAY. "I leaned down to John's ear and said: 'I know you're scared but you have to be brave and do this because these guys know what they're doing.' And he was brave for all the time I saw him," she said, as per CBC.
"He was smiling at me," she recalled. "And I said ... ‘I love you.'" She indicated he had said "I love you" back in American Sign Language, which they both signed to each other during stage performances. "And he held it as he went around the corner," she said. "That’s the last time I saw him till I saw him dead, after he died," she said, according to TODAY.
Ritter was treated for heart attack when he had an aortic dissection, which is an abnormal separation of tissues within the walls of the aorta. The aorta is the large blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body, according to WebMD.
The documents filed in connection with the case showed that Dr. Lee thought the test results showed that he had abnormalities consistent with a heart attack. He then treated him for a heart attack but Ritter's health only got worse. An aortic dissection was found. "I was sensing things were going on. And I heard 'Code Blue' … and a crash cart going and I'm like, ‘What the hell is going on?’ A doctor came to tell me that it was an aortic dissection, which I had never heard of," Yasbeck told TODAY.
Ritter's first wife Nancy had also been there at the hospital and both women were told by a doctor that the actor had passed away. "He said it was over and John's dead, that they worked on John for a long time but the damage was done by the time he got there. It was a fait accompli and John was dead," Yasbeck said, as per CBC.
The actor was pronounced dead at 10:48 p.m.
Both women had testified that their children miss their father. "And Stella, every day she wakes up and there's a new way to miss her father. I can't make up for that," Yasbeck said. "It's a new road to face every day."
Yasbeck had sued the hospital and her family received more than $14 million, including $9.4 million from Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank where Ritter died. In total, she had sued for $67 million as that would have been his earnings for the rest of his life. He was only 54 when he died.
Yasbeck has also been working on creating awareness about aortic dissection. "I’m asking for responsibility to be taken and recognition to be brought to this problem," she told TODAY. The doctors were cleared of charges by a jury in March 2008, according to LATimes.