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Holiday Science: The Grinch's Heart

Despite never having diagnosed a storybook character, and his inability to interview the patient or get any sort of a medical history, with such an extremely mis-sized organ that got suddenly large, David Kass, the Abraham and Virginia Weiss Professor of Cardiology at Johns Hopkins Medicine, immediately suspected heart failure.

“We see lots of heart failure patients, heart failure patients often have very large hearts, they’re weak. BUT — if you have heart failure, you’re not going to feel good, you’re not going to be smiling, you’re not going to be lifting your sled, as I understand he did, you’re not going to be handing out lots of presents and being cheerful. At least not usually. You’re going to be short of breath, you’re going to feel pretty lousy, you’re not going to really be up even crossing the room, let alone sledding down a hill. So, that part didn’t really fit so much and I thought, “ ‘All right, so what else do you have?’ ”

Kass also ruled out a ruptured valve, which could suddenly enlarge a heart. But that often happens to people who abuse drugs, which didn’t appear to be one of Grinch’s foibles. And when it happens, there’s not going to be any sledding.

It was when Kass considered Grinch’s greenness, along with his shrinking and expanding heart, that a theory emerged: The Grinch is a snake. He’s essentially a python, an animal known for having a heart that balloons after the animal eats something many times its own size.

“We know he’s a snake — he’s a snaky-like kind of guy,” Kass says. “Now whether it was triggered, in this case, by a meal, I can speculate. As I recall, he goes down to Whoville, and he’s going to stop Christmas so he’s getting all the presents, like reverse Santa Claus. But he gets all the food, too. He gets that roast beast and I don’t think he just threw it in his bag, so maybe like our python, that turned out to be a rather big meal. And sure enough, as he’s going back up, the heart starts getting really big.”

If Kass was Grinch’s doctor, he might tell him to lay off the big meals, in particular, the roast beast, which sounds like red meat, a coronary no-no.

Johns Hopkins Scientists Explain Rudolph, Grinch, Scrooge was originally published on the Johns Hopkins University website.