Arizona Cardinals JJ Watt plays days after heart surgery

Arizona Cardinals’ JJ Watt plays days after heart surgery

CHARLOTTE, NC — Lips trembling, Arizona Cardinals defenseman JJ Watt was on the verge of tears Sunday night after a 26-16 win over the Carolina Panthers as he discussed the upcoming birth of his son and splitting the spending months, as he looked at his son-to-be’s ultrasounds instead of seeing his heart’s ultrasound on Thursday because he had to reset his rhythm after going into atrial fibrillation on Wednesday.

Watt addressed his health situation just minutes after the game while still in full uniform. The 33-year-old tried to balance last week’s events with winning a game.

“Obviously it’s been a very emotional week for my family, my wife and myself,” Watt said. “That’s why I’m very happy to have won today. Of course I had a lot of emotions, but I’ve learned to appreciate the little things even more and that’s why it’s nice to win today.”

Watt said he was considering not playing the Panthers on Sunday, but after speaking to cardiologists and electrophysiologists he was told and reassured several times that it was safe for him to play. Doctors told Watt his heart went into atrial fibrillation, which the Cleveland Clinic says is “an irregular heart rhythm that starts in the upper chambers of your heart” anytime — whether it was the next day or 20 years from now.

Watt made his condition public with a tweet Sunday morning after receiving a call saying the news had been leaked and would be reported. He said the only ones who knew about the episode were his family and the people in the Cardinals building, and he was frustrated to learn it had come out.

“The only people who knew about it were people I was supposed to trust,” Watt said. “And I don’t care about injuries. If you disclose injuries, that’s football. But this one was very emotional for me, so it upset me.”

Watt said additional disappointment came from knowing it had been leaked ahead of a game and he didn’t want it to overshadow the game.

“I’m grateful to be out there with them,” he said.

Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury didn’t know what atrial fibrillation was until he found out about Watt’s condition. Kingsbury said Sunday that Cardinals coach Steve Heiden had a couple of episodes of atrial fibrillation and explained it to Kingsbury.

“Just a scary deal for everyone,” Kingsbury said. “But I’m glad it was found out. He seems better than ever.”

Watt said his heart was beating “weirdly” on Wednesday, which led to him having it checked out and diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. On Thursday he had a procedure to get his heart back into rhythm. He was back in training on Friday.

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Watt said he has never had a history of being scared or nervous about his multiple injuries or surgeries, the pain that came with them, or the anesthesia he received. However, when he was told he would need a ban on Thursday to reset his heart, Watt was scared.

“I’m glad I’m here today,” he said.

Watt said he asked, “Why?” quite a bit, but the doctors had no answer. When Watt was told it was safe for him to play, he knew what he was going to do.

“It’s tough,” he said. “My wife was by my side the whole time. So that helped a lot, and then I just didn’t know what else to do. I’ve played this game my whole life. They said I’m fine. So as soon as my heart reset, they said, “You’re fine. If you’re comfortable.”

“I would probably be more uncomfortable sitting on my couch at home. You know that’s what I know Right or wrong. Maybe that’s messed up, but if I was sitting at home and watching the boys play and knowing that they said I was perfectly fine to play, I would have felt weird, so I just did what I know.”

Quarterback Kyler Murray said none of the Cardinals “really understand what they went through or what happened.” Murray checked up on Watt when he heard about the situation. Seeing him practice on Friday was “a testament to the type of guy he is, the heart he has, the love for the game he has.”

Watt finished with three tackles, two passes batted and almost got a sack while playing 41 of a possible 51 defensive snaps.

“Shows you what kind of man and competitor man he is,” Kingsbury said. “He’s special and we were all obviously concerned when he wasn’t there for a couple of days to do the testing and deal with it, but I think it was definitely inspiring for all of us and he’s played at a really high level and just keeps on amazing what kind of person and player he is.”