Doctors say McGary’s heart condition not grave

Falcons rookie right tackle Kaleb McGary likely will be out six to eight weeks, but is expected to make a full recovery from his heart condition.

McGary had what the Falcons said was his third procedure to fix an irregular heartbeat Wednesday.

“First of all, he’s got this heart problem that is not life threatening,” said Shephal Doshi, a cardiac electrophysiologist and director of cardiac electrophysiology and pacing at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif. “It’s something that can be fixed, and sometimes it takes a couple of times to fix it.

“But what he’s got is like an electrical short-circuit in his heart. When most people think of heart disease, they think of a blocked artery and a heart attack. That’s plumbing. This is electrical. It’s not the same problem.”

If he’s out for six weeks, he would miss only the season opener. If he’s out eight weeks, he would miss the first three games of the season.

McGary left practice Tuesday with what the team called an "illness."

The Falcons announced that he would have an ablation procedure Wednesday, but the team did not have a timetable.

“Six to eight weeks, is very common,” Doshi said. “Usually, we do eight to 12 weeks, but because he’s young, he may not need the full 12 weeks, and they can probably get away with eight. It depends on how much they burn when they get in there. They may find out they don’t need to burn that much and may just say four weeks. It’s good to plan for six to eight, just in case, but he may have a speedier recovery than that.”

David Chao, a former team doctor with the San Diego Chargers, is not overly concerned about McGary’s condition.

“This certainly sounds scary, but he was cleared by doctors at the combine,” Chao wrote in his preseason newsletter. “The good news is he should be back well before the start of the regular season. He likely has an irregular heartbeat that can be treated with medication, but there are side effects if he chose that route.

“An ablation procedure is done through the leg vein and requires no true incision. The fact that this is his (third) is not alarming as it is always better to do too little vs. too much. This sounds like a bigger deal than it will be.

“During my NFL medical career, we had players with these procedures in season and the public never even knew about it. McGary should be fine for football in very short order.”

The Falcons denied a request to interview their team cardiologist.

There have been studies of athletes who’ve had the ablation procedure, according to Nikhil Warrier, a cardiac electrophysiologist at Memorial Care Heart & Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Calif. “For the most part, they do really, really well,” Warrier said.

McGary is expected to make a full recovery.

“This won’t affect his ability to play football long-term,” Doshi said. “There was the relief pitcher from the Dodgers, Kenley Jansen, who had to stop playing baseball during the season because he had to get the procedure done. We do see it in athletes and young people.”

Chris McAvoy of the Boston Bruins underwent a similar procedure in January 2018. Also, pro soccer player Clint Dempsey had a similar procedure in 2017. 

Despite all the descriptions of this as a relatively minor procedure, there could be complications.

“One of the reasons that he can’t play for six to eight weeks, once you get the procedure done, you have to take a blood thinner for two months because this burning in the heart can cause a blood clot,” Doshi said. “So, you have to take a blood thinner after the procedure. So, while he’s on the blood thinner for about two months, he really can’t play football.”

The risk of getting hit and internal bleeding comes with taking blood thinners.

“But during the two-month period, he can exercise,” Doshi said. “He can work out. He’s free to lift weights. He just can’t do contact stuff.”

McGary’s heart problems first started in high school, according to the Seattle Times.

His heart arrhythmia caused him to lose consciousness while playing in a basketball game at Fife High School in January 2013.

There were three subsequent procedures, according to the Times.

McGary was signed to a four-year, $10.2 million deal May 10. A total of $9.1 million of the deal was guaranteed.

The Falcons were aware of his heart condition.

“You heart beats because of electricity,” Doshi said. “You can imagine that heart is full of electric light bulbs and there is a switch that goes on and off, making the heartbeat. Well, one of his light bulbs has a short circuit kind of like the ones in the kitchen that start flickering when the bulb get old. What happens is that causes his heart to go out of rhythm.”

Doctors are more aggressive with younger patients.

“It’s very common for people who over 70,” Doshi said. “Almost 10 percent of the population has it. But it’s not as common when people are young. When people are young they feel it more. They often feel like their heart is bouncing out of their chest. Sometimes they can feel dizzy. They can feel light-headed and be short of breath. They can have more fatigue.”

According to the Falcons, this will be his third procedure.

“The reason he’s having a third procedure is that sometimes its hard to find that right spot,” Doshi said. “That doesn’t mean that he’s not curable. It just means that they haven’t found the right light bulb yet, so they keep calling the electrician back.”


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