By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Washington Wizards center Etan Thomas will undergo surgery to repair a leak in his aortic valve today. A cardiac irregularity originally was discovered during a routine physical late last month before the opening of training camp, and Thomas was not cleared to participate.
He will be further evaluated following today's procedure; neither he nor the team has discussed his basketball future.
Thomas, 29, has appeared in 347 Wizards games with 66 starts. He was expected to compete with Brendan Haywood for the starting center position when camp opened last week in Richmond.
A Wizards spokesman said they would make no further comment until after the procedure.
The two main aortic valve diseases are aortic stenosis and aortic regurgitation, according to the Web site of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Aortic valves can become thick and narrowed (stenotic), causing them to not open fully, or curled at the edges and leaky (aortic valve regurgitation or insufficiency), resulting in a backflow of blood into the left ventricle.
According to Ammar Bafi, a cardiac surgeon at Washington Hospital Center, Thomas likely will require several months of recovery before he would be cleared to resume strenuous activities such as playing basketball.
"If you're just talking about normal everyday activities like walking around, driving your car, things like that, he should be fine in a few weeks, but for what we call supra normal activities like running and jumping and lifting weights, it would be a few months and in reality, up to a year," said Bafi, who is a specialist in performing aortic valve procedures. "He needs to be way above normal before resuming that kind of activity and the initial key will be getting over the trauma of the surgery itself."
Jesse Sapolu, a former offensive lineman for the San Francisco 49ers, had his aortic valve replaced in January 1997 and returned to play the following season; and Los Angeles Lakers forward Ronny Turiaf was cleared to resume his career after undergoing surgery to repair an enlarged aortic root in July 2005.
However, former NBA guard Fred Hoiberg was forced to retire after undergoing open heart surgery that included the addition of pacemaker in 2005. He now works in the Minnesota Timberwolves' front office.
Without Thomas, Haywood is the Wizards' lone true center. But several players, including Darius Songaila, Andray Blatche and Oleksiy Pecherov, played some center during Tuesday's 81-62 preseason victory over Cleveland and will rotate at the position when the regular season opens Oct. 31 at Indiana, according to Coach Eddie Jordan.
Thomas is almost as well known for his off-court interests as he is for his skills as a basketball player. He wrote a book of poetry titled "More Than an Athlete" in 2005, has participated in writing workshops with youngsters incarcerated in Washington jails and joined several NBA players this summer on a trip to Africa that was organized by the "Feed the Children" campaign.
Wizards Notes: After taking yesterday off, the Wizards will practice today at Verizon Center. The team hosts Dallas on Saturday night at Patriot Center in Fairfax and will play at Philadelphia on Sunday.
Guard Gilbert Arenas said he felt "good" following Tuesday's game and will play in at least one of this weekend's games. Last week, Arenas said that he may play in every other preseason game in order to rest his surgically repaired left knee. Arenas has played without a brace since camp opened but wore a compression sleeve on his left leg Tuesday night.
"He still has quickness, but he has to get his legs under him a little bit more," Jordan said after Tuesday's game. "I think, going to his left, he doesn't have the explosiveness as he did before. He's working, he's just not the real Gil yet."