Thomas requires heart surgery to repair leaking valve

Updated: October 10, 2007, 9:30 PM ET
Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Washington Wizards center Etan Thomas will undergo open heart surgery Thursday to repair a leak of the aortic valve, a procedure that requires months of recovery time but might not mean the end of his NBA career.

Etan Thomas


Thomas missed the start of training camp Oct. 2 after a routine physical revealed an abnormality in his heart.

The Wizards said they wouldn't comment or make the doctor available until the surgery is completed.

Dr. Ammar Bafi, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Washington Hospital Center and an expert on the procedure, said the operation isn't career-ending for most people.

"It's life-threatening if it isn't fixed. It's life-threatening if it progresses and goes on for a number of years, Bafi said.

Bafi said most people who have the surgery can drive a car within two to three weeks and can play golf within six to eight weeks, although the rehabilitation period could be different for a professional athlete. Forward Ronny Turiaf joined the Los Angeles Lakers less than six months after having open-heart surgery for an enlarged aortic root in 2005.

The 29-year-old Thomas has played only for the Wizards during his six-year NBA career and is the team's longest tenured player. He was drafted No. 12 overall by Dallas out of Syracuse in 2000 but did not play for the Mavericks because of a toe injury. He was traded to Washington in a multiplayer deal in February 2001.

Thomas started a career-high 32 games last season, averaging 6.1 points and 5.8 rebounds while splitting playing time with Brendan Haywood. Thomas and Haywood were expected to compete for the starting job again this season.

Thomas also is known as a community and peace activist and is a published poet. He released a book of poems titled "More Than An Athlete" in 2005 and is active with the Boys and Girls Club, the Democratic National Committee, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Congressional Black Caucus and Rock the Vote.

On the court and in the locker room, however, Thomas has the competitive nature required of a big league athlete. He and Haywood have fought three times off the court, although Haywood indicated before the start of camp that the two had patched things up.

"We realize we're embarrassing ourselves, our team and our families every time we go out there and act silly," Haywood said at the team's media day Oct. 1. "You can always talk something out before you fight. So you can't just get mad and try to fight somebody. He's a peace activist -- he can't do that, anyway."

Thomas was about the begin the fourth year of a six-year, $38 million contract he signed during the summer of 2004. The contract was the result of the Wizards matching an offer sheet from the Milwaukee Bucks when Thomas was a restricted free agent.

Thomas married Nichole Oliver, a former Syracuse women's basketball player in 2004 and had a son, Malcolm, in 2005. The family lives in Mitchellville, Md.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press