What to know about the ‘Widow maker’ heart attack from ‘This Is Us’

If you’re a fan of “This Is Us,” you know the show is famous for making its viewers cry on pretty much a weekly basis. And the episode that aired on Feb. 4 following the Super Bowl was no exception. If you’re not caught up, warning — there are spoilers ahead!

After a crockpot caught fire in the house, Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) helped his family flee from their burning home and then died suddenly later at the hospital. Although Jack survived the fire, doctors told his wife, Rebecca (Mandy Moore), that smoke inhalation damaged his lungs and caused him to go into cardiac arrest.

this is us photo
Getty Images | Frederick M. Brown

Fans were heartbroken over this beloved character’s tragic death, and Moore assured them that the experience was no less devastating for the cast.

“Pretty much all of the episodes affect all of us, like, we all cry,” the actress said during an appearance on NBC’s “Today.” “We saw the episode together as a cast at Dan Fogelman’s house last week, and none of us could speak afterwards. We were sort of speechless.”

What Was Jack Pearson’s Heart Attack?

Jack Pearson didn’t have just any heart attack — what happened to him is called a “widow maker.” It occurs when the left descending artery (LAD) is entirely blocked and blood flow to rest of the heart is restricted, according to University of Michigan Health. When patients suffer this type of heart attack, they often do not survive, hence the term “widow maker.”

Dr. Amar Krishnaswamy, interventional cardiologist in the Cleveland Clinic’s Department of Cardiovascular Medicine, explained the role of this artery in a “widow maker” heart attack in the video below:


It’s important to note that although Jack Pearson’s heart attack was triggered by smoke inhalation on “This Is Us,” breathing in smoke is not a risk factor per se. Rather, it was the lack of oxygen to his heart for a period of time that kicked off this particular cardiac arrest, the University of Michigan Health said.

Additionally, despite its name, there is no research to suggest that a “widow maker” heart attack disproportionately affects men versus women, according to Dr. Martha Gulati, editor-in-chief of the American College of Cardiology site CardioSmart.org. (You can learn more about heart attack symptoms in women here.)

Jack Pearson’s death was hugely emotional for “This Is Us” fans but we’re grateful it has been an opportunity to learn more about heart health. RIP, Jack!