By Nunyo Demasio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 12, 2005
Washington Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs said yesterday he underwent a common procedure to open a clogged artery to his heart last month. Gibbs said he is feeling no side effects from the procedure and that it would not affect his ability to continue to coach the team.
Gibbs said doctors placed a small, spring-like wire tube known as a stent in the artery at a Washington hospital in mid-April. He said he remained in the hospital overnight and returned to work at Redskins Park the next day.
Gibbs, 64, and the Redskins did not disclose the operation after it took place. But NFL sources in recent days said they understood Gibbs had undergone the procedure. Gibbs confirmed the information when asked by a reporter yesterday afternoon at Redskins Park.
"Several weeks ago on the advice of my doctor, I had a common, precautionary procedure to clear up a blockage in one artery," said Gibbs, his burgundy shorts drenched in sweat following a workout. "A stent was placed in the artery during the procedure at a Washington hospital. I suffered no ill effects prior to the procedure, and have had none since.
"I ran for 45 minutes the day before the procedure, and was back to my regular workout program several days after, including my 45-minute run."
Gibbs said he preferred to keep the matter private, and told only a handful of family members and close associates, including Redskins owner Daniel Snyder. After confirming the procedure in the brief interview yesterday, Gibbs informed his staff so that they would not find out about it through media reports.
"I understand the public interest, but it has no effect on my work, or my tenure with the Redskins," Gibbs said. "I considered it a private matter."
Redskins spokesman Karl Swanson said the team left it up to Gibbs to disclose the operation if he wished.
When asked if he had any previous heart procedures, Gibbs responded, "I have never had a problem."
Gibbs said the clogged artery was discovered during a routine physical, after which doctors recommended he undergo the stent procedure. Gibbs declined to give further information, and did not disclose the name of the hospital where he underwent the procedure or the date of the operation.
After initially retiring as Redskins coach in 1993, Gibbs discovered he was diabetic. Gibbs returned to coach the team in January 2004 and, in his first season back last year, said repeatedly that he had improved his diet and was watching his health more closely than during his first tenure in Washington.
Even so, the state of Gibbs's health has been a topic of discussion among NFL officials and others closely associated with the league since he signed a five-year, $28.5 million contract in 2004 to coach the Redskins again.
Gibbs yesterday reiterated his expectation to coach at least through the length of his contract, and said that doctors consider him in good health.
The insertion of a stent is a far less-invasive treatment for clogged coronary arteries than bypass surgery. In the most common form of the procedure, the stent -- a wire mesh tube used to prop open a clogged artery -- is collapsed, placed over a balloon catheter and then moved into the area of the blockage. As the balloon is inflated the stent expands, locking into place, and remains in the artery permanently to improve blood flow to the heart muscle.
According to the American Heart Association, stenting is most commonly accompanied by angioplasty, although Gibbs made no mention of having undergone angioplasty. More than one million people in the United States undergo angioplasty procedures every year and about 80 percent of them receive a stent as well, according to government health statistics.
In recent years, stents have provided a significant advancement in the treatment of heart problems, lessening the chances of complications from angioplasty. Nonetheless, stents do not necessarily prevent follow-up procedures or surgeries.Vice President Cheney is among the notable individuals who have undergone a stent procedure. In 2000, Cheney underwent an angioplasty and stent procedure because of a blocked artery. Cheney had another angioplasty in 2001.
When they were NFL head coaches, Mike Ditka and Dan Reeves underwent more serious heart operations, and kept coaching. Dallas Cowboys Coach Bill Parcells retired as New York Giants coach in 1991 -- after winning Super Bowl XXV -- largely because of heart ailments. Parcells underwent angioplasty and spent the following two years as an NFL television analyst. Parcells eventually underwent heart bypass surgery, and returned to the NFL in 1993 as coach of the New England Patriots.
As Denver Broncos coach in 1990, Reeves underwent angioplasty during training camp. In 1998, Reeves had guided the Atlanta Falcons to a 12-2 record when he suffered chest pains that forced him to undergo quadruple-bypass surgery. Three weeks later Reeves returned to work and guided the Falcons to Super Bowl XXXIII, which was won by the Denver Broncos.
Late last season, Gibbs rebutted an ESPN report that he was contemplating retirement because of health concerns. During a team meeting on Nov. 29, Gibbs told his players that he wasn't planning on leaving the team anytime soon.
Gibbs entered the 2004 season with the third-best winning percentage (.683) in league history. But his 6-10 record last season was the worst in his coaching career.
When Gibbs contemplated returning to the NFL in late 2003, he discussed how to maintain his health during the NFL's grueling season extensively with family.
In early February 2004, Gibbs suffered a diabetic reaction after an insulin imbalance, which sent him to an emergency room in the Jacksonville area during a visit with quarterback Mark Brunell. Later, Gibbs explained to reporters that he had accidentally switched his medication and taken the wrong dosage.
Last season, Gibbs maintained his legendary work ethic -- 18-hour days from Monday to Thursday ending between 2 and 3 a.m. -- and frequently slept in a hideaway bed in his office.
Gibbs believes that he became diabetic because of poor eating habits. Now he closely monitors his diet and works out regularly at Redskins Park. Gibbs weighs substantially less than he did during his first tenure as Redskins coach. He is often seen sweating profusely as he works out on a treadmill among his players.