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Caution guides Aldridge's care

Blazer assistant, many others have had heart problems
by: SAM FORENCICH, LaMarcus Aldridge was diagnosed with a heart malady and had surgery this week after leaving a game with a rapid heartbeat. The Blazers expect him to fully recover.

There is no reason to think LaMarcus Aldridge won't enjoy a long, healthy, prosperous career in the NBA.

But when it comes to heart issues, there always is great concern about a player that goes beyond his playing future.

Aldridge should be able to resume normal activities next week after Monday's treatment for Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center. Blazer officials expect the 6-11 Trail Blazer rookie to take part in Las Vegas Summer League activities in July.

A rapid heartbeat forced the former Texas All-American from a March 31 game against the L.A. Clippers, after which it was determined he had WPW, a congenital condition found in three out of every 1,000 people.

WPW is in a category of electrical abnormalities called 'pre-excitation syndromes.' There is an extra atrioventricular pathway to the heart that may result in rapid heartbeat. Some people with WPW show no symptoms. It is believed Aldridge had experienced no episodes until the Clipper game.

The Blazers' medical staff presumably took great care in dealing with Aldridge's situation. There is a long history in basketball of players dealing with heart-related issues, including one of the Blazer coaches.

Monty Williams, an assistant on Nate McMillan's staff, was a 6-7 forward preparing for his sophomore year at Notre Dame in 1990 when it was announced his career was over.

During a routine physical, Williams was found to have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, an abnormal thickening of the heart muscle. HCM is the same condition that took the lives of Hank Gathers (Loyola Marymount, 1990) and Reggie Lewis (Boston Celtics, 1993).

But after sitting out two years, Williams was cleared to play in 1992. He played two more seasons at Notre Dame, averaging 22.4 points and 8.2 rebounds as a senior in 1993-94, and wound up playing parts of 10 seasons in the NBA.

After the two-year hiatus, Williams went to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. Doctors 'put me through a series of tests,' Williams says. 'They found nothing wrong with my heart. God healed me - and I have had no problems since.'

Williams, 35, declined to talk further about his situation, 'because I don't want to hurt LaMarcus' situation in any way,' he says. 'And my (condition) was different than his.'

Williams' comeback, recalls Forrest Miller, who covered Notre Dame at the time for the South Bend (Ind.) Tribune, 'had a lot to do with Monty's determination. He made up his mind he was not going to sit on the sidelines any longer. I remember (Fighting Irish medical personnel) began carrying a heart defibrillator at practices and games.'

John MacLeod, Williams' coach the last two seasons at Notre Dame, says after the player 'was given the green light, he gave us two great years. It goes to show, a lot of things can be said (by medical experts) that would make someone decide not to play. But Monty wanted to play.'

Heart problems not unusual

Williams was one of the lucky ones. Among the recent documented heart-related cases in basketball, both in the NBA and locally:

• Veteran NBA forward Juwan Howard was diagnosed with viral myocarditis, an infection to the heart, after the 2003-04 season. Howard didn't have surgery but was ordered to have no exertion for six months, after which he was cleared to play for the Houston Rockets in 2004-05.

• Fred Hoiberg underwent open-heart surgery after the 2004-05 season with the Minnesota Timberwolves and was fitted for a pacemaker. It ended his 10-year NBA career.

• Eddy Curry was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat and enlarged heart before the 2005-06 season. When Curry refused a DNA test requested by Chicago doctors to see if he was afflicted with, or susceptible to developing, HCM, the Bulls traded him to New York. Curry has played the past two seasons with the Knicks without heart problems.

• In 2005, Grant High guard Eddie Barnett collapsed during a game and died from HCM.

• In 2005, Atlanta center Jason Collier died at his home of a sudden heart rhythm disturbance caused by an enlarged heart.

• On March 10, Chicago's Malik Allen was evaluated and treated for an irregular heartbeat. The Bulls forward has played since then and experienced no health difficulties.

On the scale of serious heart conditions, WPW seems closer to the bottom than the top. It is a form of Supraventricular Tachycardia (SVT), a rapid rhythm of the heart that begins in its upper chambers.

'If SVT is ice cream, WPW is vanilla,' says Randy Jones, a cardiac electrophysiologist the past three years at St. Vincent's who attended but didn't perform the procedure on Aldridge. St. Vincent's personnel can speak generally about the condition but not specifically about the procedure done on Aldridge.

Most opt for surgery

People with WPW have an extra electrical connection that short-circuits the heart's wiring. Symptoms, which are not always evident, can include dizziness, fainting and, on rare occasion, cardiac arrest. WPW can be treated with medication, but most patients opt for a one-time procedure that has a success rate of about 95 percent in curing the disorder.

The procedure, which takes an average of four hours, 'involves putting AV lines into large veins in the body, and staking wires through the lines into the heart,' Jones says. 'One of the wires passes through the heart, finds where the extra connection is, burns it and it's gone. It's pretty high-tech, and it's very effective a great majority of the time.'

Typically, a patient will convalesce for a few days, then return to normal activity within about a week. Jones says it is no different with a professional athlete.

Doctors at St. Vincent's performed about 600 SVT procedures in 2006 - 20 percent to 25 percent of them to treat WPW, Jones says.

Citing patient privacy laws, Blazer officials are saying little about Aldridge's ailment or recovery process.

'I'm excited we got the right diagnosis,' General Manager Kevin Pritchard says. 'We expect LaMarcus to have a full recovery. We were able to find the best doctors in the world to perform the procedure, which made us all feel better about the whole thing.'