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Cubs' Wood Has Heart Defect

Kerry Wood plans to pitch for the Chicago Cubs next season despite a dime-size hole in his heart.

The 22-year-old right-hander has atrial septal defect, which can cause a gradual weakening of the heart. The condition probably won't affect his career, but doctors said that it should be corrected.

Cubs spokeswoman Sharon Panozzo said the team had no comment and general manager Ed Lynch did not return phone calls left at his home Sunday.

Wood learned he had the condition when he became ill in February, just before spring training. Doctors at a hospital in Mesa, Ariz. discovered the hole in the wall separating the two upper chambers of his heart.

Doctors recommend the hole be closed at some point and Wood's doctors told him it would have to be fixed by the time he was 30 or 40, he told the Chicago Tribune. Left untreated, it can cut life expectancy to 40 years, doctors said.

Wood, the 1998 NL rookie of the year who missed the entire season after blowing out his right elbow in March, decided against having the surgery immediately.

ASD is "a very low-risk thing to fix" surgically, and Wood probably can wait to have surgery, said Dr. Keith Horvath, assistant professor of cardiothoracic surgery at Northwestern University Medical School.

"This is not a Hank Gathers or Reggie Lewis (situation)," Horvath said, referring to two athletes who died unexpectedly of heart ailments at young ages.

Wood, who tied a major league record with 20 strikeouts in a game in 1998 while going 13-6, said he will have an echocardiogram, an ultrasound of the heart, every year. In the meantime, he said he plans on coming back strong.

"What's going to drive me the most is all the people who are saying I'm not going to be the same, I'm not going to come back," he said.

Cardiologists call the condition a "silent killer" because it affects a person over a long period. But they said there is no danger of Wood collapsing while pitching, even if the hole goes unfixed.

"But at some point what can happen is that the blood ends up going in the wrong direction, and it leads to congestion in the lungs," said Horvath. "You develop high blood pressure in the lungs. The problem is we can't treat that."

©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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