When Mario Lemieux retired from playing hockey in 2006 because of a heart condition, no one really knew the severity of his ailment.
And in a special interview for Reader's Digest by TSN's Gord Miller, Lemieux shares how atrial fibrillation - a condition more commonly known as an irregular or rapid heartbeat - affected his life and ultimately resulted in his final retirement from hockey.
Lemieux, whose past medical problems included back problems, 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, had no reservations about telling his story.
"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," explained 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.
"No one knew how debilitating the condition was for him," said the NHL on 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."
Now enjoying a 'normal' life, Lemieux is dedicated to educating Canadians about AF and through his interview with Reader's Digest, hopes to encourage others with similar symptoms to speak with their doctors and understand their treatment options.
"Once you fix the problem, you can have a normal life," Lemieux points out.
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