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Taylor suffered health ailments through life

March 23, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Elizabeth Taylor spent a large part of her life in and out of doctors' offices and hospitals.

She battled myriad health problems, starting at age 12 when she fell off her horse. Her medical issues continued to follow her, making headlines along the way.

Taylor passed away Wednesday morning at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, surrounded by family and friends.

Taylor's many medical woes are as part of Hollywood lore as her many heartaches and husbands. Through the decades, we watched her battle from the brink of death many times.

As the film "BUtterfield 8" was making its rounds in theaters, actress Elizabeth Taylor was nearly dying from pneumonia. She underwent a tracheotomy to help her breathe.

In 1961, she hobbled to the stage to accept her Best Actress Oscar in one of the most dramatic moments in Academy Award history.

Her health woes began at age 12 when she was filming "National Velvet" and fell off a horse and hurt her back.

That set off myriad other medical problems that dogged her throughout life.

In fact, friends say doctors warned Taylor it would be difficult for her to have children, due to health issues.

In 1957, it took nine doctors to deliver her premature third child.

That year, Taylor fell in a boating accident. Surgeons removed three discs and replaced them with bone from her hip, pelvis and a bone bank.

Pneumonia and respiratory infection would continue to plague her. In 1969, Taylor was near death again. She entered a hospital for tests and X-rays for back pain.

A year later, Taylor was treated for what was described as corrective surgery to stop internal bleeding, two weeks after she had undergone a gynecological operation.

In the late 1980s, years of battling weight issues and substance abuse landed her at the Betty Ford Center.

"I consumed inordinate amounts of alcohol. And combined with pills, it was deadly," said Taylor in a later interview.

Plagued by pain and having difficulty walking, Taylor underwent hip replacement surgery in 1994.

Internal medicine expert Dr. Douglas Webber says Taylor's chronic medical woes are not uncommon.

"I think from a health perspective we do see many of the things that she suffered with over the years, and I think it is a wakeup call for many to try to do as much as they can," said Webber.

In recent years, Taylor underwent a minimally invasive treatment to repair a leaky valve, but her heart and lungs continued to labor under the strain.

Cardiologist Dr. Lawrence O'Connor uses a balloon to explain the condition.

"As the heart gets bigger, it becomes more and more difficult for it to fill, and the pressure climbs inside because the muscle starts pushing back against that pressure," said O'Connor.

Doctors agree that despite her many illnesses, careful medical management helped Elizabeth Taylor lead a long and productive life, a life she used to help many others through her work in AIDS research and numerous other charitable organizations.