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Yaz's bypass shows heart health is key

Heart health is key

For younger fans of the Red Sox, it's impossible to imagine a time when their team didn't dominate the Boston sports consciousness, didn't challenge for championships and frankly, didn't matter. That was before 1967, Yaz and the 'Impossible Dream' team. Carl Yastrzemski put the Sox on his back that summer and led the team from worst to first. Helping the Sox to stage so many heart-stopping, late-inning comebacks, they earned the nickname "Cardiac Kids." Those memories came flooding back on Tuesday when news broke that Yaz had been hospitalized with chest pains.

In some ways, it was hard to reconcile those images of an athlete in his prime -- a Triple Crown winner -- with the knowledge that a 69-year-old Yaz is now recovering from triple bypass surgery.

"No one is immune from heart problems," says Dr. Kamal R. Khabbaz, clinical director of cardiac surgery and interim chief of cardiac surgery at the Cardiovascular Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. "Some are more at risk than others, either from genetic predisposition, lifestyle issues or lack of risk modification."

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If your profile shows family history of heart trouble, you've got to be vigilant -- there's a good chance it's in your genes. If, however, the profile in your mirror shows you are having trouble fitting into your jeans, that would be those lifestyle issues Dr. Khabbaz is referring to.

"Some of it is pretty straightforward. If a person is overweight and out of shape, it puts a lot of physical stress on the heart," he explains. "Obviously, diet and exercise can moderate that risk by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and improving the fitness of the body in general and heart in particular."

He adds that kicking a smoking habit can prevent more than lung cancer.

"I think some people might be surprised to learn that smoking puts people at huge risk for coronary disease," he says.

Yaz was a smoker even during his playing days. He tried to quit more than a couple of times but, like many, found nicotine difficult to give up. Dr. Khabbaz is sympathetic with patients like Yaz ... up to a point.

"Any addiction is hard to conquer, but smokers have to understand that their habit not only increases the risk of developing plaque -- the substance that blocks arteries -- but also makes it more likely that that plaque can rupture. That can be deadly."

The choice to perform a bypass rather than treat the problem with angioplasty or stents is usually based on several factors, he explains, including the number of blockages and their location. While a bypass is a more involved surgical procedure, it will continue to be the best choice for some patients.

"There is a lot of discussion about bypass vs. angioplasty, but the fact is bypass will continue to play a major role in the treatment of coronary disease. It isn't the appropriate choice for everyone, but for many, the long-term benefits are tremendous. "

It's been 41 years since Yaz brought sunny days back to Fenway Park and cast his shadow on the Green Monster during that remarkable summer of '67. The hope here is that he will be up and about as soon as possible -- casting for stripers as he loves to do.

Gary Gillis is a contributor to MLB.com. The BID Injury Report is a regular column on redsox.com. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is the official hospital of the Boston Red Sox. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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