Richard Holbrooke Dies of Aortic Tear: What's That?

Richard Holbrooke Dies of Aortic Tear: What's That?
Richard Holbrooke died Monday after undergoing surgery for an aortic tear. (AP Images/Alex Brandon)

(CBS/AP) How did Richard Holbrooke, titan of U.S. diplomacy, suddenly die at age 69, just days after he first entered the hospital?

Holbrook fell ill from a torn aorta -- the major artery that carries blood to the heart -- on Friday, Dec. 10 and was admitted to Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C., where he required an over-20-hour surgical procedure to repair the tear. He was in critical condition in the days following the procedure, and passed away Monday night.

A torn aorta, also called an aortic dissection, is a condition in which a rip develops in the inner wall of the aorta allowing blood to enter the vessel wall and weaken it. If not corrected it can lead to rapid death. As blood enters the wall it reduces blood flow just as if there were a severely bleeding wound, leading to serious internal bleeding, a loss of blood flow and possible complications in organs affected by the lack of blood, according to medical experts.

One of the most common causes of aortic dissection is high blood pressure, and men are more likely to suffer from the condition than women, according to the American Heart Association.

Symptoms of an acute aortic tear are usually sudden, severe chest pain and cold sweats.

Holbrooke, a longtime U.S. diplomat who wrote part of the Pentagon Papers, was the architect of the 1995 Bosnia peace plan. He also served as President Barack Obama's special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"True to form, Richard was a fighter to the end," former President Bill Clinton said in a statement. "His doctors marveled at his strength and his willpower, but to his friends, that was just Richard being Richard."

Holbrooke is survived by his wife, author Kati Marton, and two sons from an earlier marriage, David Holbrooke and Anthony Holbrooke.

Read More about Holbrooke's Life and Career

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