Bradley Handwerger / WWLTV.com Sports Reporter
METAIRIE, La. ― Truth be told, the first time Mitch King went into atrial fibrillation two years ago, he was mostly unconcerned.
Sure, the heart arrhythmia was a bit jarring, but once it started beating in rhythm again, it wasn’t a big deal and King moved on.
This week, however, was different.
It returned. And this time, King, in training camp with the Saints, worried.
“This time I thought more,” King said. “The first time it happened, I was stubborn and stupid and young. I was always going to say, ‘I’ll die on the football field.’ I’ve gotten a little older. This time it scared me a little bit more than the last time because I see things differently. There’s a lot more things after football that I can go to.”
Atrial fibrillation is an arrhythmia of the heart that causes it to beat faster, though sometimes slower, than normal.
“It’s, in a way, a failure of the normal pacemaker of the heart to work,” said Dr. Paul LeLorier, associate professor of medicine and neurology at LSU’s Health Sciences Center.
According to LeLorier, King’s condition isn’t life-threatening. But he cautioned that one of the normal treatments for atrial fibrillation is taking Aspirin, which for an athlete could be dangerous.
Aspirin is a blood thinning drug which would keep an injury from clotting, a danger for someone in a contact sport like football.
King, who said he isn’t taking any medication, missed two days of practice earlier this week when his heart went out of rhythm. He eventually was cardioverted, a way for getting the heart back into rhythm using electricity or drugs.
He returned to practice and hasn’t had an issue since.
Kings has listened to his doctors and while he can’t tell you verbatim what they told him, he does know he has to pay attention to his body and what it’s telling him.
“It’s just something they told me in some doctor terms and some big words and then I went on with my day,” King said. “It’s something you have to be cautious about. I’m one of the lucky ones that feels when it goes out of rhythm rather than a lot of people who don’t feel when it goes out of rhythm.”
King isn’t the first athlete to experience atrial fibrillation; LeLorier said Olympians have experienced it and haven’t been bothered by it.
But different people react in different ways.
“Some people are completely disabled whenever they go into it and some people don’t notice it at all and are able to perform normally, run marathons,” LeLorier said.
“In the back of my head, I was always thinking it’s my heart, not my knee or shoulder or something you can push through the pain,” King said. “You really can’t push a heart.”
The line, he said, will be drawn when it’s occurring more often than not.
King said he’s not willing to put more stress on his heart than it can take.
“It’s nothing to joke around with,” he said. “As smart as doctors are and as much medical equipment they attach to you, your heart is your nervous system and everything. (It’s) your central life so you don’t want to mess that up and stress that too much.”