Although he's had no real symptoms to speak of, former Ottawa Senators coach Craig Hartsburg will undergo heart surgery in a few weeks after being diagnosed with an ascending aortic aneurysm.
“It is what it is. You’ve got to play the cards you’ve been dealt, and this is something I’ve been dealt,” said Hartsburg on Tuesday from his home in Everett, Washington. “I have to deal with it.”
Doctors will get a better look at his heart and the surrounding arteries Wednesday when he undergoes a heart catheterization -– where a tiny camera is inserted into an artery.
Hartsburg is expecting to be operated on at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett in the first week of November. The actual day has not been selected.
“It’s part of the process. They do this with pretty much everybody that has open-heart surgery. . . . They want to make sure they know exactly what’s going on there. I’m sure they’ll find nothing else,” said Hartsburg, who has been the head coach of the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League for more than a year. “I’m fine right now.
“I’m sure in a couple weeks when I have my surgery I won’t be too spry.”
Hartsburg, 51, found out by chance a few years ago that he had been born with a bicuspid value, which is different from a normal heart, which has a tricuspid valve.
The problem causes the aorta, the body’s main artery, to bulge. He says doctors have kept a close watch on him since first discovering it in 2003.
“They found it by accident really,” he said. “I’m actually lucky. You look back now and I’m probably pretty fortunate that we did find it at that point.”
Hartsburg says he hasn’t felt differently in recent years, but doctors detected a change after tests last summer.
“Just in probably the last year it started to get worse. . . . Mine’s become dilated enough it’s now called an aneurysm and it got to the point in size it’s now become dangerous,” he said.
If it ruptures it could lead to nearly instant death, he says.
“It’s to the point now that something has to be done.”
Hartsburg admitted to being “a little nervous” when he first found out he needed surgery. However, he has since talked to a number of people who have undergone open-heart surgery.
“I’ve talked to the doctors (too) and they’re pretty confident it’s something that can be fixed,” Hartsburg said. “After two to three months they say you’ll be doing everything you did before.”
He expects to be in intensive care for a few days after the operation and released from the hospital after about five days to begin rehab.
He says rehabilitation will require a great deal of rest and regular exercise.
He hopes it won’t take two to three months to get back in the swing of things. But he realizes that he must be careful.
“Obviously, this is not an elbow or a shoulder or a knee where you can coach or play with a little bit of pain,“ he said. “You’ve got to be careful and make sure everything’s fine.
“I’ve always been a pretty quick healer, so hopefully sometime after Christmas we’ll be back to work.”
Although he’s a “bit nervous,” Hartsburg says his wife, Peggy, is unfazed.
“There’s not much that rattles her. She’s a trooper.”
In the meantime he is taking blood pressure medication and still coaching. He will be laid up for the rest of this week after the catheterization, but will be back behind the bench next week, where he’ll remain until surgery.
Associate head coach Jay Varady will handle the bench in his absence, along with Craig’s son, Chris Hartsburg, who is a Silvertips assistant coach.
“It’s a good opportunity for them to run it,” Hartsburg said. “It’s like anything, we’ve tried to put the program together as a staff and now it’s just follow the same things we’ve always done for the last year or so and we’ll be fine.”
The Silvertips are 5-2-1-1 so far, with more than 60 games left in season.
“(They’re doing) OK, it’s early in the year,” Hartsburg says.