Imagine being a 19-year-old hockey player and you’re out on the ice, when all of a sudden you realize that something is wrong, that your heart beat feels out of whack. Such was the experience for Boston Bruins rookie defenseman Charlie McAvoy, who had a cardiac ablation last week to ensure that he would no longer experience such an event.

“I’ve had occasional – I’ve probably four times where I’ve felt it before. Didn’t really know what it was, it was a little bit scary. The November episode was a little bit longer than all the other ones,” McAvoy described of what he was experiencing. “Dr. Finn was there that night and Donnie Del Negro [the Bruins trainer], and we were able to monitor it together and kind of figure out that, hey we should go see the doctors at Mass General and see what it is. Right from the start, we were on top of it, and we were able to diagnose it and take care of it.”

Knowing that there is something that is affecting your heart beat can be nerve-wracking. With the events that happened with former NHLer Rich Peverley and AHLer Craig Cunningham, it can be career ending. When you have just begun your professional career, this can really cause additional stress.

Dr. David Finn and Charlie McAvoy

“I think it was relief, first off, to find out that it was not life threatening and not dangerous to my overall health. That was my best take away from that to realize that obviously, because I’m in there, I’m kind of nervous, that this is going to be something that is really bad, that I might not be able to play again or anything like that,” McAvoy stated at the start of the press conference. “To find out that it was something that was not dangerous, not life threatening, something that I could still continue to play with, that was a good take away right away from the overall situation.”

It was the fact that it wasn’t life threatening that allowed the doctors, McAvoy and his family, and the Boston Bruins to schedule the surgery for the week that included the All-Star break. This allowed McAvoy to miss fewer games during his recovery.

When considering that the issue had to do with his heart, perhaps one has to wonder why he might be concerned with the number of games he misses. However, he’s a hockey player, and they are a breed that is seldom happy unless they can be out on the ice giving it their all. McAvoy’s opportunity to return to the ice on Monday was met with smiles. Having spent the previous week doing nothing it was clear that he was happy to be back on the ice even if just for a short period.

The operation itself is not a major surgery. Dr. David Finn explained what was done, and affirmed that once done, the issue would not return.

“It’s done through a smaller catheter that goes into the vessels around the canal area around the lower abdomen that goes up into the heart, and then they are able to isolate a bundle of extra electrical tissue circuit that creates this abnormal heart rhythm. They’re able to find that and basically ablate it. They can destroy the extra tissue there, and once it’s gone, it doesn’t come back again,” Dr. Finn described.

For McAvoy, the goal now is to get himself back up to playing level, but his understanding of what that might take and the commitment to doing it properly belies his youth.

“That’s what coach’s decision is, but we have a strategy for getting back up to speed, and I feel comfortable with it, starting with today being the first day,” McAvoy answered. “We’re going to go at it with open communication, with Doc, the doctors at MGH, Donnie, obviously everyone involved. I’m not afraid to tell them exactly how I feel, if I’m ready, if I’m not, and we’ll go about it together.”

“Charlie has a follow-up appointment this week, and that will clarify when his return to play. He’ll start the skating process, and really, it’s about how he feels. Once he is 100% medically cleared, later on we’ll have more information in that regard,” stated Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney. “We had always said it was likely a two-week [recovery], and we’ll give you more information when we have it, but a lot of it will be determined how Charlie feels.”

Now I can go through not only sports, but life and I won’t have to worry about it ever again. – Charlie McAvoy

A family historian by profession, Rhonda R. McClure has loved hockey since she was a child in New Hampshire. Any opportunity to combine her love of writing, hockey and research is something she looks forward to with much enthusiasm. She's been accused of seeking out shinny games when there are no other hockey events taking place. She is a member of the Society for International Hockey Research. Follow her on Twitter at @HockeyMaven1917.


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