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Lemieux diagnosed with an atrial fibrillation

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.