Bill Paxton’s death: heart condition may be linked to childhood illness

While Bill Paxton appeared to active, healthy and busier than ever, prepping for new movie roles and starring in the new CBS cop drama “Training Day,” the affable 61-year-old actor was apparently dealing with some kind of heart problem that required surgery.

His family revealed Sunday that the co-star of 1990s movie blockbusters and of the acclaimed HBO series “Big Love,” died Saturday of complications of that surgery. It hasn’t been revealed what kind of condition the “Twister” and “Aliens” actor was dealing with or what kind of surgery he faced

But he was nervous about his upcoming “ordeal,” as he revealed to Doug Liman, his director from the 2014 sci-fi thriller “Edge of Tomorrow.”

Still, Liman told the New York Daily News, Paxton was “optimistic” and looked forward to upcoming projects, including making an “Edge of Tomorrow” sequel with Liman. He was also set to appear with his “Apollo 13” co-star Tom Hanks in “The Circle” an upcoming film adaptation of the Dave Eggers novel.

Liman said Paxton sent him an email on Jan. 29, thanking him for his good wishes on his surgery. “It will help me face this ordeal.”

In an interview on Marc Maron’s “WTF” podcast, which dropped earlier this month, Paxton revealed the possible source of the heart condition he was dealing with: rheumatic fever, which he had suffered as a 7th grader while living in Fort Worth, Texas.

According to the Mayo Clinic, rheumatic fever is an inflammatory disease that can develop as a complication of inadequately treated strep throat or scarlet fever, both of which, in turn, are caused by an infection with streptococcus bacteria. Rheumatic fever is most common in children, ages 5 to 15, and it can cause permanent damage to the heart, including damaged heart valves and heart failure.

Paxton admitted to Maron he suffered heart damage as a result of the rheumatic fever.

He described how the illness came on mysteriously and suddenly when he was a happy, outgoing suburban 13-year-old in the late 1960s, “chasing golf balls” on a nearby golf course, listening to the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones and the Beatles and going to summer camp.

“I woke up one night,” he told Maron. “I had been to a hockey game, and I woke up one night and I had a lot of pain in my left wrist.”

The following morning, a Sunday, the pain had become worse, so his father took him to see a doctor, but that doctor couldn’t diagnose the condition. More tests followed and by that Tuesday, Paxton said he was in Cook’s Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth.

The doctors finally diagnosed Paxton’s rheumatic fever and concluded it probably developed from a “bad sore throat” he’d had over the previous Christmas holidays.

“So I spent a good part of 7th grade in bed,” Paxton said. He explained that the quiet six months he spent recuperating fostered his imagination and powers of observation — both of which fueled his interest in becoming an actor and going into show business.

“It kind of isolated me at an interesting age,” he said. “Suddenly I was in this voyeuristic kind world, where I had TV but there wasn’t much TV on in those days, and I read a lot and looked out the window at the golf course.”

He also explained to Maron that, yes, rheumatic fever, an infection that somehow “got into my wrist,” can cause permanent heart damage.

“It usually damages your valves,” he said.

When Maron asked if the fever had caused such damage to Paxton, the actor said, almost reluctantly and painfully, “Well yeah. …. yeah, yeah, yeah.”

The Mayo Clinic said rheumatic fever is rare these days in the United States and other developed countries. Heart damage it causes usually doesn’t show up for years, but it’s something people need to share with their doctors for the rest of their lives as part of their medical histories. They should also get regular heart exams, the Mayo Clinic said.

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