The untimely death of author Julie Powell, 49, whose life inspired the film “Julie & Julia,” has raised new concerns about her health, including a recent battle with COVID-19.
Her husband, Eric Powell, told The New York Times on Tuesday that the author died of a cardiac arrest at their home in Olivebridge, New York, on Oct. 26.
As fans expressed their condolences on social media, questions arose about some of Powell’s final tweets, including her recent COVID-19 recovery and a “black hairy tongue.”
On Oct. 25, a day before her death, Powell reportedly tweeted that she awoke with a black hairy tongue, adding, “people, including my doctor, seem to think it’s no big deal, and will go away soon, but it certainly is gross.”
According to Dr. Darien Sutton, a board-certified emergency medicine physician and ABC News medical contributor, black hairy tongue is a benign and temporary condition caused by a variety of factors such as excessive alcohol, coffee or black tea consumption, dehydration, smoking, poor oral hygiene, or even certain medications.
Powell, who rose to prominence as the food writer behind the Julie/Julia blog, which chronicled her journey through all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s “Mastering The Art of French Cooking” tweeted about COVID-19 earlier this fall, in September, writing that her symptoms included fatigue and a cough.
According to Sutton, there is “no reason to believe” Powell’s diagnosis of black hairy tongue is related to her COVID-19 battle.
Sutton also stated that there is “no evidence” that her death was related to her COVID diagnosis.
“I think the reason why people speculated about this is that we know that there’s an association between COVID-19 and an increased risk of certain conditions that can cause cardiac arrest,” Sutton explained, noting that data shows patients with COVID-19 are more likely to have heart attacks, abnormal heart rhythms, and blood clots.
According to Sutton, the only known fact about Powell’s death is her husband’s report that it was caused by cardiac arrest, which is a broad term.
“It simply means that the heart has stopped functioning,” he explained about cardiac arrest. “We do not know her medical history other than what she relayed in her tweets.”
According to the National Institute of Health, cardiac arrest is responsible for up to 450,000 deaths in the United States each year.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States.
Diabetes, smoking, an unhealthy diet, a lack of physical activity, and other factors can all contribute to the disease. Sutton added that cardiac arrest can also occur as a result of factors unrelated to heart disease, such as lungs, electrolytes, or blood disorders.
“Unfortunately for cardiac arrest, there are no real symptoms,” said Sutton. “It’s often a sudden loss of consciousness.”
Sutton advises calling 911 and beginning CPR immediately if you see someone lose consciousness.
The American Heart Association provides resources for people who want to learn first aid and CPR in order to save a life.