In an exclusive interview for Reader's Digest Canada, Pittsburgh Penguins
owner and all-time NHL great Mario Lemieux
talked about how atrial fibrillation -- frequently called irregular or rapid heartbeat -- changed his life as a professional athlete. Lemieux told reporter Gord Miller of TSN that the condition ultimately resulted in his final retirement from hockey.
Atrial fibrillation or AF is on a lengthy list of health challenges for Lemieux. He also battled back problems throughout his NHL career, plus a bout with Hodgkin's disease in 1993 and a rare bone infection that sidelined him for two-thirds of the Penguins' first Stanley Cup championship season in 1991. He shared his AF story to help others with the same condition.
"I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to try and help others who have had the same symptoms as I did when I played hockey," said Lemieux. "The reason I decided to get involved with AF awareness was to help people understand what AF is."
Atrial fibrillation is more common among older people and causes the upper chamber of the heart to palpitate and, as a result, not pump as much blood as a normal heart. If left untreated, the condition can lead to a stroke or heart disease, but it is commonly controlled by a blood-thinning drug. To his benefit, Pittsburgh team doctors closely monitored Lemieux's condition.
"No one knew how debilitating the condition was for him," said TSN's Pierre McGuire, Lemieux's friend and former coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins
. "Mario is an extremely private person and it was a difficult decision for him to make, but the priority was to take care of himself and his health. And now, by choosing to share his story with Reader's Digest, he's sure to reach millions with his message about AF."
Lemieux said the condition is controllable and wanted to underscore the point with the Reader's Digest interview (check out www.readersdigest.ca for more info).
"Once you fix the problem," said Lemieux, "you can have a normal life."