Denver Broncos coach John Fox had heart surgery Saturday and Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak collapsed Sunday night after having a transient ischemic attack, also known as a mini-stroke or a TIA.
The job of an NFL coach is famously stressful, with some of them working long hours, not eating properly, ignoring personal health concerns and — ironically — not getting enough exercise. Those unhealthy habits can lead to heart disease, stroke and other major problems.
“Everybody’s got a busy life and everybody’s got stress, but make time in your day for your health,” said Gordon Tomaselli, M.D., professor and director of the Division of Cardiology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a past president of the American Heart Association.
“Chronic stress can increase your risk of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries),” Tomaselli said. Stress also can change your blood vessels functionally and can make you more vulnerable to atrial fibrillation (a quivering or irregular heartbeat), both may increase your risk for a TIA or stroke.
Kubiak suffered a TIA during Sunday night’s nationally televised game against the Indianapolis Colts, collapsing on the way to the locker room at halftime. A TIA is caused by a reduction in blood flow to part of the brain. Unlike a stroke, the blockage is temporary and TIAs don’t cause permanent brain damage.
“This was a warning stroke. But if the body doesn’t dissolve the clot, it’s no longer a TIA. It’s a stroke, where part of the brain dies,” Tomaselli said. “There are a number of things that stress does to set the table for the possibility of a TIA. The direct relationship between stress and TIAs is not as tight as one might think, but stress can cause a number of things that might predispose you to a TIA.”
Kubiak was released from the hospital, but no information was released on when he is expected to resume coaching duties.
On Saturday, Fox, 58, became dizzy while playing golf. He’d been told earlier that he has aortic valve disease, where a heart valve doesn’t open and close properly and may leak blood. Pressure can build up inside the heart and cause damage, including heart failure.
Although Fox was hoping to put off aortic valve surgery, tests showed it couldn’t wait. He’ll miss several weeks coaching after the surgery, according to team spokesman Patrick Smyth.
Tomaselli urged people to check out Life’s Simple 7 to find out their risk of developing heart disease or stroke and what and what they can do to prevent it. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of Americans, and stroke is the No. 4 cause of death and a leading cause of disability.
Clyde Yancy, M.D., past president of the American Heart Association and chief of the Division of Cardiology and the Magerstadt Professor of Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, emphasized that prevention is the best game-changer when it comes to heart disease and stroke.
“Heart disease is the great equalizer,” Yancy said. “It doesn’t respect our stations in life, our businesses, our major life events and certainly not the next game. The good news here is that the care for all forms of heart disease and stroke now borders on the amazing. We can do great things and change expectations. But even great care in the best hands is not guaranteed. Prevention remains the best therapy we have.”
Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle told The Dallas Morning News that these events highlight the importance of taking care of yourself — whether you’re a coach or have another high-pressure job.
“I don’t know details about their specific situations, but regardless of whether you’re a coach of a professional sports team, you’ve got to take care of yourself. You’ve got to get physicals. You’ve got to monitor things,” said Carlisle, who is president of the NBA Coaches Association.
Photo of Coach John Fox courtesy of Denver Broncos. Photo of Coach Gary Kubiak courtesy of Houston Texans.