Arizona Cardinals’ JJ Watt plays days after having heart procedure

Arizona Cardinals' JJ Watt plays days after having heart procedure

CHARLOTTE, NC — With his lip quivering, Arizona Cardinals defensive lineman JJ Watt was on the verge of tears Sunday night after a 26-16 win over the Carolina Panthers when he talked about the impending birth of his son, and the dichotomy of spending months looking at the ultrasounds of his future son against seeing the ultrasound of his heart on Thursday because he needed his rhythm to be reset 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 explaining what happened last week with just winning a game.

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

Watt said he considered not playing Sunday against the Panthers but after talking with cardiologists and electrophysiologists, he was told and assured multiple times that it was safe for him to play. The doctors told Watt that his heart go into atrial fibrillation, which is “an irregular heart rhythm that begins in your heart’s upper chambers,” according to the Cleveland Clinic, at any time — whether it’s the next day or in 20 years.

Watt made his condition public on Sunday morning with a tweet after receiving a phone call informing him that the news had been leaked and was going to be reported. He said the only who knew about the episode were his family and people in the Cardinals’ building, and that he was frustrated to find out it had gotten out.

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

Watt said added disappointment came from knowing it was leaked before a game and he didn’t want it to overshadow the game.

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

Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury didn’t know what atrial fibrillation was until he was told about Watt’s condition. Kingsbury said Sunday that Cardinals tight ends coach Steve Heiden had atrial fibrillation a couple times and explained it to Kingsbury.

“Just a scary deal for everybody,” Kingsbury said. “But I’m glad it got figured out. He seems better than ever.”

Watt said his heart was beating “weird” on Wednesday, which led to him getting it checked out and he was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. On Thursday, he had a procedure to shock his heart back into rhythm. He was back at practice on Friday.

Watt said he’s never been scared or nervous in the past by his numerous injuries or surgeries, the pain that came with them or the anesthesia that he’s received. However, when he was told he’d have to be put under on Thursday to have his heart reset, Watt was scared.

“I’m glad I’m here today,” he said.

Watt said he’s asked “why?” quite a bit but doctors didn’t have the answer. Once 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 all the time. So, that helped a lot, and then, just, I didn’t know what else to do. I have been playing this game my whole life. They said I was fine. So , once my heart was reset, they said, ‘You’re fine. If you feel comfortable.’

“I’d probably be more uncomfortable sitting on my couch at home. You know, this is what I know. Right or wrong. Maybe that’s messed up, but if I was sitting at home 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 he went through or what transpired.” Murray checked on Watt when he heard about the situation. Seeing him at practice Friday was a “testament to what type of guy he is, the heart he has, the love for the game that he has.”

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

“Shows you what type of person and competitor, human being he is,” Kingsbury said. “He’s special and we were all obviously worried when he wasn’t around for a couple of days getting the tests run and handling that but I think it was definitely inspiring for all of us and he played at a really high level and he just continues to amaze, the type of person and player he is.”


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