Behind the Net With Mario Lemieux
Mario Lemieux had one of the greatest careers in hockey history, landing 690 goals and 1,033 assists over the course of 17 seasons. Check out these photos of his storied career, plus shots of the NHL star unwinding at home, as well as excerpts and audio clips from his exclusive Reader’s Digest interview.
Mario Lemieux celebrates a Stanley Cup win with the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Getty Images)
Click to listen to an audio clip of Reader’s Digest’s exclusive interview with Mario Lemieux (2 minutes 5 seconds).
Lemieux warms up before Team Canada’s winning game against Team Russia in the World Cup of Hockey in 2004. (Getty Images)
Click to listen to an audio clip of Reader’s Digest’s exclusive interview with Mario Lemieux (1 minute 30 seconds).
Lemieux is checked in a 2005 game against the Carolina Hurricanes. (Getty Images)
For the first time ever, hockey great Mario Lemieux sat down for an exclusive interview with a reporter and discussed in detail his battle with atrial fibrillation. Read on for excerpts from the interview.
Reader’s Digest: When you retired in 2006 you were described as having a heart flutter, but in fact it was far more serious than that, wasn’t it?
Mario Lemieux: Yeah it was atrial fibrillation and it was pretty serious. I had a lot of episodes up to being diagnosed…. It was pretty scary. At times it felt like I was having a heart attack or the like, and it was pretty scary not knowing exactly what the problem was.
RD: 12 years ago … you had to talk to your wife about being diagnosed with cancer, which obviously has to be very difficult. How tough was it to come back to her and say there is something else?
ML: It was tough but not as tough as the first one. Being diagnosed with cancer is a very scary thing for everyone involved … for yourself, for your family, people around you. A-fib, the more I learned about it, the better I felt about correcting the problem and it was just a matter of getting the right people involved, the right doctors, the right surgery. And I was able to do that.
RD: When you first had symptoms, did you try to tell yourself it’s probably nothing?
ML: I thought at first it was probably dehydration because I was working out and it would come on during my workouts. So I tried to drink a lot of water and Gatorade and all that stuff. [But] then it would happen when I wasn’t working out so I knew there was a serious problem.
RD: What’s the message you want to get out to people?
ML: Just to learn as much as you can about a-fib. This is something that can be dealt with as you choose … and just to be aware of all the symptoms, and of course see a doctor as soon as possible. A lot of people wait a little bit too long before seeing a doctor. If you have these symptoms like I had please see a doctor as soon as possible and learn about your condition.
What is Atrial Fibrillation?
By Sarah Lolley
Atrial fibrillation (AF or A-fib) is a condition in which the two top chambers of the heart (the atria) beat irregularly or abnormally fast. It affects roughly a quarter of a million Canadians and accounts for 43,000 hospitalizations each year. AF strikes men and women across all age groups, but it’s more pervasive among men.
The most common risk factors for AF are advanced age (after 55, the incidence rate doubles with each decade of life), high blood pressure and pre-existing heart conditions. Most people with AF have obvious symptoms-including, most commonly, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, chest discomfort and fatigue. However, in up to a third of cases, the condition is silent, often going undetected and untreated. That’s why having regular checkups is important.
The greatest health danger that can result from AF is a stroke: With an irregular heartbeat, the heart doesn’t pump efficiently, so blood can pool there and form a clot. If the clot dislodges, it can travel via the bloodstream to the brain and block a blood vessel, causing a stroke.
From Reader’s Digest – February 2010
How Can AF be Treated and Prevented?
By Sarah Lolley
Treatment for AF involves controlling the heart’s rhythm. This is usually done by converting the irregular heartbeat to a normal one (cardioversion), either electrically or chemically, then maintaining the regular heartbeat with antiarrhythmic medications. Some patients with AF are also prescribed blood thinners to reduce their stroke risk.
Over the last few years, a new treatment for AF has become available, one that retired hockey legend Mario Lemieux had in February 2006: ablation surgery. This treatment involves surgically zapping the short-circuits in the heart that cause AF, allowing the heart to revert to its regular rhythm. “Our understanding of the therapy is evolving,” says Dr. Paul Dorian, director of the Division of Cardiology at the University of Toronto and a world expert on arrhythmias. “Ablation is sufficiently new that we don’t completely know which patients will benefit the most or which ones are the best candidates.”
Preventing AF is possible only by controlling the risk factors. “If we aggressively treat high blood pressure or prevent it from developing [such as by modifying diet and exercise],” says Dorian, “there will be fewer cases of atrial fibrillation.”
From Reader’s Digest – February 2010