Jansen eager to put heart condition behind him
OCT 23, 2012 4:47p ET
The former catcher – turned –closer is 6-5 and weighs 260 pounds. The 24-year-old closer also has lightning in his right arm, recording 25 saves with a 2.40 ERA, regularly registering on the radar gun at 95 mph or faster.
He's only been pitching in the majors for three years and is already regarded as one of the top relievers in the game. In 2011 he set an all-time major league record by averaging 16.10 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. Watching him perform his craft, you'd think he's indestructible.
However, life intervened and showed that he's just as human as the rest of us.
The big right-hander from Curacao has a medical condition called atrial fibrillation which, when active, causes his heart to flutter and raises his heartbeat upwards of 200 times per minute. It has interrupted his major league career twice, the last time being on Aug. 27. He was out until Sept. 18.
Medication solved the problem temporarily, but Jansen underwent heart surgery on Tuesday to literally burn the condition right out of his heart muscle. While most would be hesitant — if not downright scared — when facing such a procedure, Jansen wa looking forward to it.
"I really am," he said. "I just want to deal with this once and for all, get the procedure done and put it behind me. With most people, they try to avoid the surgery as much as possible and control it with medicine. With the job I have and all the exercise I do and will continue to do, it's better to fix it now when I'm young and strong, and not have to take the medication anymore."
After a couple weeks on blood-thinning medication, Jansen began taking a medication that kept his heart in rhythm, and he suffered no side effects.
"The last time this happened, (the doctors) put me on a medication that made me really tired," said Jansen, who was the catcher for the Netherlands in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. It seemed like the smallest bit of exercise and I would be ready to go to sleep. Now, these meds are great. But I want to get to the point where I don't have to take any at all.
The surgery that Jansen underwent is called "catheter ablation," during which a series of catheters (thin, flexible wires) are put into a blood vessel in your arm, groin (upper thigh) or neck. The wires are guided into your heart through the blood vessel.
A special machine sends energy to your heart through one of the catheters. The energy destroys small areas of heart tissue where abnormal heartbeats may cause an arrhythmia to start.
Catheter ablation often involves radiofrequency (RF) energy. This type of energy uses radio waves to produce heat that destroys the heart tissue. Studies have shown that RF energy works well and is safe.
Atrial Fibrillation causes strokes in anywhere from two to seven percent of the people with the condition. Along with medication to control the heartbeat, doctors will usually recommend blood thinning meds such as Coumadin to prevent the blood clots that cause strokes. (Cincinnati Reds' manager Dusty Baker suffered a minor stroke under those conditions in Sept).
For someone like Jansen, though, it means stepping away from your chosen profession because a cut or internal injury suffered while on Coumadin could cause severe bleeding and possible death. A simple play such as taking a throw at first base could be life-threatening if he was hit hard or spiked.
On Tuesday Jansen underwent the three hour surgery and is set to be released Wednesday. According to the Associated Press, after seven to 10 days, Jansen may resume physical activity with no restrictions. Until then, though, Kenley remains positive that the surgery will work and he won't have to miss any more time during the season because of an irregular heartbeat.
"I'll just go out there and be smart," Jansen said. "I just have to remain humble and always give my best. That's what I've learned from life: Just go out, stay humble and try to become a better person as well as a better player. I'll give it my best on and off the field, and never be afraid to fail. If you're afraid to fail, you probably will. That's why I'm very positive about having the surgery.
Jansen will turn 25 on Sept. 30, but he's obviously a young man wise beyond his years.
-The Associated Press contributed to this report
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