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by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins
Hockey fans can breathe a sigh of relief – Mario Lemieux is OK and resting at home.

Lemieux was taken to a Pittsburgh hospital following Wednesday’s practice after he experienced an irregular heartbeat. He was discharged Thursday and is taking medication to correct a condition known as atrial fibrillation.

“Everything went well. We figured out what he has: atrial fibrillation. It’s relatively common, a lot of times people don’t know they have it – I might even have it,” Penguins General Manager Craig Patrick said. “It’s easily taken care of with medication. [The doctors] are happy to know what it is.

“It’s in the atrium rather than in one of the other arteries. It could have been serious if it was in one of the other arteries, but it’s not.”

Lemieux was upbeat Thursday upon his hospital release.

“He’s feeling great; he’s relieved and happy and joking with everybody through text messaging,” Patrick said. “I know everybody was chuckling every time they read one.”

Lemieux, 40, was prescribed medication to treat the condition. He could resume workouts relatively soon.

“We don’t know for sure. The doctors say that this medication has to reach a certain level before he can start exercising again,” Patrick said. “That could be as early as two and a half days. He needs five doses to get at the right level. We’re expecting a week to 10 days he could be back in the lineup.

“I think we’ll take our time with it, though,” he continued. “We will monitor and see how everything is going before he gets back into a routine.”

Lemieux has experienced an irregular heartbeat at various times since mid-summer.

“He’s been experiencing it for a while. In mid-summer, he had a bout with it for a little bit. It started up a little in October,” Patrick said. “He was worried about it.”

A stomach virus also has plagued Lemieux this season, which caused him to sit out two games.

“We all knew about this viral thing in the stomach, but I am sure this [condition] was weighing on his mind, too, because he did have some tests for it and they couldn’t find anything for it,” Patrick said. “He went through stress tests and blood tests and they couldn’t find anything.”

Lemieux last experienced an irregular heartbeat during the Penguins’ Florida roadtrip in late November. He played against the Panthers on Nov. 25, but was not in uniform for the team’s game against Tampa Bay on Nov. 27.

“The last time he had it, a doctor said, ‘The next time it occurs, we have to get you on a monitor, so we know exactly what it is.’ It lasted until about 3 a.m. [Thursday], but they knew right away what it was since he was on a monitor, so everyone was pretty relieved when they found out,” Patrick said. “This time I wasn’t as alarmed because I knew he was going to get monitored. The last time it happened, we were on the road and that was a little scary. We went and saw doctors, but you’d rather be with your own doctors.”

On Wednesday morning, Lemieux practiced with the Penguins. His teammates were surprised and concerned their captain had to be taken to a hospital for observation.

“Obviously, it is a scary thing,” Penguins forward John LeClair said. “Everybody is concerned for him. Anytime someone has to go to the hospital with heart trouble, you’re concerned and hope for the best.”

Penguins rookie Sidney Crosby, who resides with the Lemieux family, was stunned.

“I found out mid-afternoon. I was surprised; I had no idea,” he said. “I was pretty shocked. Being around the family, you feel a bit more. It was tough.”

The players first noticed something was wrong when Lemieux did not attend an autograph signing session after Wednesday’s practice.

“After practice, we had some autograph signing to do and he wasn’t there,” Crosby said. “I just wanted to see what was going on. I went over to the hospital for a little while last night with Nathalie and the kids. I think everyone tried to stay in pretty high spirits.”


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