Health Headlines: Former NBA star back in the game

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Published: Sep. 2, 2022 at 6:57 AM CDT
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Lake Charles, LA (KPLC) - A pulmonary embolism can be life-threatening and affects around 1 in 1,000 people in the U.S. every year. In most cases, they are caused by blood clots in the legs or arms that travel to the lung.

With timely treatment, most can recover. But for others, those clots become chronic. And even the most physically fit, like former NBA star Em Bryant, can fall victim to them.

Fifty-three years after his big win with the Celtics, number seven has still got it.

Still wearing his 1969 championship ring, this 85-year-old works hard to stay fit on and off the court.

“I was used to being in the gym for a couple of hours and then swimming a quarter mile and half a mile,” says Bryant.

But then, a pulmonary embolism struck.

Dr. Michael Cuttica with Northwestern Medicine explained, “He had a series of clotting events or pulmonary embolism in the lung, and never really fully recovered from it.”

The fatigue was a clear sign that his clots did not go away with blood thinners.

“When I met them, they got to the point where he couldn’t even go for walks with his wife,” said Dr. Cuttica.

When those clots don’t go away, they can turn into scar tissue, or chronic clots in the walls of the pulmonary arteries. This can lead to C-Teph.

Bryant underwent a pulmonary thromboendarterectomy surgery. Surgeons attached Bryant to a heart-lung bypass machine, cooling his body to 64 Fahrenheit to protect his organs. Surgeons then turned off the machine, stopping circulation for up to 20 minutes. That opens the arteries and removes the clots.

After a week in the hospital, Byrant was back home. And a few months later, back in the gym.

Bryant says, “I’ve since learned how to pace myself, now.”

For patients who are not well enough or strong enough for the ten-hour PTE surgery, doctors can also try medications, or use a minimally invasive balloon catheter to try and push the clots out of the way.

If not treated, the clots can become life-threatening.