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Thursday, December 8, 2005
Updated: December 9, 10:35 AM ET
Lemieux diagnosed with an atrial fibrillation

Associated Press

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Craig Patrick knew owner-captain Mario Lemieux was feeling much better after yet another medical scare when he heard laughter in the team's executive offices Thursday morning.

Mario Lemieux
Lemieux

Lemieux, from his hospital bed, was text messaging club employees and, Patrick said, "I know everybody was chuckling every time they read one of them."

Lemieux, whose oft-interrupted Hall of Fame career has included an uncommon sequence of medical misfortune, was released Thursday from a Pittsburgh hospital after being admitted less than 24 hours before with a rapid heartbeat. The condition, known as atrial fibrillation, is commonly treated with medication and is not expected to end his career or alter his life.

The 40-year-old Lemieux was "very happy, very relieved" upon hearing that his problem was not much more serious, according to Patrick. Lemieux could be working out again within a week, after doctors determine how much medication he needs, and he could return to the ice not longer after that.

"He's started his medication already and it will solve his problem," Patrick said. "He's in great shape and he's in great spirits. This has been something that has been lingering on and off and they finally figured out what it is."

Lemieux, whose medical problems include a bout with cancer in 1993 and a rare bone infection that sidelined him for two-thirds of the Penguins' first Stanley Cup championship season in 1991, first noticed the irregular heartbeat this summer.

He went through a series of stress and blood tests, but doctors found nothing wrong. After he experienced another bout on a road trip to Florida during the Thanksgiving weekend, doctors told him to get to a hospital immediately the next time his pulse began racing.

When his heart sped up following practice Wednesday, Lemieux went to a hospital and was hooked to a monitor. The spell lasted until about 3 a.m., allowing doctors to diagnose the problem.

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.

Lemieux missed two of the Penguins' previous six games through last weekend with what the team described as the stomach flu, but there was no indication until Wednesday the problem might be much worse.

Penguins rookie star Sidney Crosby is living in Lemieux's home this season, and even he was unaware of the problem.

"I was pretty shocked. It was tough," Crosby said. "I was surprised and wanted to find out what was going on, so I went to the hospital to see him -- I had no idea. He didn't say anything about it and I didn't really notice a lot."

Penguins forward John LeClair said Lemieux's teammates were worried and upset with the news, and were relieved to learn the problem is apparently not serious.

Patrick was told multiple factors can cause atrial fibrillation, including stress. Lemieux has been exceptionally busy since the NHL labor impasse ended this summer, not only in returning to the ice after a nearly two-year layoff but making numerous decisions affecting the once-bankrupt team's financial future.

And, as Patrick said, the six-game losing streak the Penguins took into Thursday night's game against Minnesota couldn't have helped.

"I'm sure this was weighing on his mind, too, because he did have some tests for it and they couldn't find anything," Patrick said. "There was no sign of anything."

Patrick has no timetable for Lemieux's return to game action, although the layoff is not expected to be lengthy.

"I think we'll take our time," Patrick said. "The doctors said he could be working out in as soon as three days, but we'll monitor it and see how he's doing when he gets back."

Lemieux's list of injuries and medical setbacks is nearly as long as that of his accomplishments in one of hockey's most storied careers.

Lemieux sat out the 1994-95 season after having Hodgkin's disease and severe lower back pain that reoccurred even after he had the back surgery in 1990 that led to his bone infection. He retired for 3½ seasons following the 1996-97 season before unexpectedly resuming his career in December 2000 -- a year after buying the team.

The NHL's No. 7 career scorer has seven goals and 14 assists for 21 points in 25 games this season, but recently had a four-game streak without a point that was the longest of his career.