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Elizabeth Taylor: Dead from Congestive Heart Failure at 79

She was an undeniable film icon. A Hollywood legend. A dedicated businesswoman. A humanitarian and AIDS advocate. Arguably one of the most beautiful women to grace this earth.

And, even if you were not of her generation, or have never seen one of her many movies, you probably know her name.

But on Wednesday, March 23, the legendary Elizabeth Taylor passed away.

Known for her acting career, starring in such celebrated films as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Cleopatra, and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Elizabeth, or “Liz” as many knew her, was NOT known for her good health. In fact, next to her lustrous history in film and her numerous marriages and subsequent divorces, Taylor was likely most known for her countless hospital visits and treatments.

In her 79 years, Taylor underwent at least 20 major operations, including back surgery, a hysterectomy, appendectomy, hip replacements, and even surgery to remove a brain tumor.

In 1960, Taylor suffered from a “mystery ailment” eventually diagnosed as meningism, a non-life threatening illness marked by irritation of the membranes covering the brain. She recovered after an abscessed tooth that had contributed to the condition was removed.

In 1961 she came down with a severe bout of pneumonia, and was even pronounced dead - twice. She underwent a tracheotomy, in which an incision was cut into her windpipe to help her breathe. But even this didn’t stop her from continuing her career and the accolades that went with it. Shortly after this particular near-death experience, she attended the 1961 Academy Awards and accepted an Oscar for Butterfield 8 . . . with a bandage covering the still-fresh scar.

1976 brought another scare when black dots were discovered on Taylor’s lungs during a routine X-ray. Fortunately, the dots turned out to be remnants of tuberculosis that she never knew she had.

In 1983 she checked into the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage for treatment of drug and alcohol abuse, including the use of sleeping pills and prescription pain killers. Taylor attributed many of her health problems to taking so many prescription medications over the course of her life.

Pneumonia plagued the actress again in April 1990, and she was hooked up to a ventilator for several days.

The hip replacements came one after another in 1994 and 1995, and then Taylor went through yet another surgery because her legs were no longer the same length after the double-replacement.

In February 1997 the brain tumor was discovered. It was benign, but Taylor underwent surgery to have it removed.
What finally took the Hollywood legend, however, was her battle with congestive heart failure, from which she suffered since 2004.

Last month, she was admitted to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles “for monitoring.” And the hospital, which seemed like her “home” so much over the past 50-plus years, was Taylor’s last stop in life.

What is Congestive Heart Failure?

Congestive heart failure is as serious as it sounds, but it doesn’t have to be fatal.
The Mayo clinic explains that congestive heart failure (CHF) occurs when your heart can't pump enough blood to meet your body's needs. Conditions such as coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and diabetes gradually leave your heart too weak or too stiff to fill and pump efficiently. It’s not the same thing as a heart attack, in which your heart stops suddenly.

Congestive heart failure can cause tiredness and shortness of breath, buildup of fluid in the legs and feet, and a buildup of fluid and blood in the lungs.

According to recent statistics, about five million Americans suffer from CHF and 300,000 die from it each year.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) lists the following symptoms as an indicator of congestive heart failure:

  • Sudden weight gain (2 pounds in 1 day or 5 pounds in 5 days)
  • Worsening shortness of breath
  • Increased swelling of your feet, legs or abdomen
  • Needing more pillows or sleeping in a recliner
  • Waking from sleep to catch  your breath
  • New or worsening dizziness
  • A cough that does not go away
  • New or increased irregularities in your heart rate
  • Any problem with heart failure medications

If you’re suffering from any of the above symptoms, you should see a doctor as soon as possible.

Fortunately, there are things you can do to help prevent congestive heart failure.  Regular exercise, a healthy diet that is low in fat, sugar and salt, watching your weight, and even reducing stress and depression are all preventative measures that can ward off the disease.

The World Says Goodbye . . .

Michael Wilding, Taylor’s son who was by her side at her passing, perhaps best reflects how the world will remember her . . .

“'My mother was an extraordinary woman who lived life to the fullest, with great passion, humor, and love . . . Though her loss is devastating to those of us who held her so close and so dear, we will always be inspired by her enduring contribution to our world. Her legacy will never fade, her spirit will always be with us, and her love will live forever in our hearts.”

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