Aaron Boone announced this week that he will undergo open heart surgery to replace a defective aortic valve. The valve is bicuspid rather than tricuspid, meaning that it only has two flaps instead of three. The result is that blood doesn't necessarily flow through the valve, but can backwash. This makes the heart pump harder than normal to push the blood through. This over works the heart, which can hurt it in the long run. Further, it leaves the heart especially vulnerable to infection, as the backwashed blood can allow infections to "stick" in the heart. Even going to the dentist can require extra medication to prevent this type of infection. (You may recall that Bobby Simone died from an infection in his heart that he got at the dentist's office.)
I know about this, because I had the same condition, and had open heart surgery to replace my valve in 2001. I had something called the Ross Procedure, where they remove your pulmonary valve, which looks the same as the aortic valve, and put it where your aortic valve was. In my case, they replaced the pulmonary valve with a cadaver valve. I was 36 at the time, the same age as Boone. I don't know if Boone is having the Ross Procedure or not, but the main benefit to the procedure is that, theoretically, it's permanent. It also does not require a mechanical valve, which would require the use of cumadin. You do have to be young, however, as it is a very strenuous surgery.
Boone said he's known about his condition since college. I knew about mine since before I can remember. It showed as a heart murmur when I was very young. I never had any symptoms, but before I started junior high I had a catheterization to determine how bad it was so that I could be cleared to play sports. It wasn't as bad as they thought, and I was able to play sports, which was a huge relief to me. By the way, I was in the hospital recovering when Elvis died. So I always remember where I was when I heard the news, a hospital in East Lansing, Michigan.
In 2000 and 2001, my heart started to expand rapidly (exponentially) from over use. (My other muscles have yet to catch on to this phenomenon.) At that point, I decided to have the surgery.
Obviously, Boone wants to be healthy. The news story here, though, is whether he'll play again. I can tell you this: I was training to run in the Chicago Marathon with my wife, when the doctor recommended the surgery. My cardiologist told me to stop running, but my surgeon said it would be fine. Of course, I didn't run the Chicago Marathon, which was in October of that year. My surgery was in August. But my wife and I did run the Rock and Roll Marathon in San Diego in May of 2002, less than a year after my surgery. So I don't think this surgery means that Boone's career is over. Obviously, I'm not a world class athlete, but I wasn't that before the surgery, either, the way Boone is. Unfortunately for Boone, however, his career was already moving towards its twilight. He would certainly have played this year for the Astros, who definitely need the help at third base, but his days as a an everyday player may have already been over.
I wish Boone the best of luck, and hope to see him someday soon in a major league uniform.
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