It was minor, the doctors said. The problem was cleaned out in a two-hour surgery Wednesday morning, they said, and they expect a full recovery.
But, even as the doctors talked at a Dodger Stadium news conference and as he rested comfortably in Centinela Hospital Medical Center Critical Care Unit, the news Wednesday about the Dodgers' manager, their heart and soul, was stunning--and raised countless unanswerable questions:
Tom Lasorda had a heart attack, sometime between Sunday night and Wednesday morning. And the date of his return to the team--and his long-term future as manager--is anybody's guess.
Lasorda, 68, who was hospitalized Monday complaining of abdominal pain that Tuesday was diagnosed as an ulcer, underwent angioplasty surgery Wednesday morning to clear out a coronary artery that doctors said was at least 75% blocked.
Bill Russell, who managed Tuesday's game in Lasorda's place and has long been considered a top candidate to be Lasorda's eventual successor, will manage the team until Lasorda can return, Executive Vice President Fred Claire said.
Lasorda, who had no known previous history of heart problems, does have an ulcer, the doctors said. But after seeing how minor it was in relation to the pain he was feeling, doctors that there had to be a more serious problem, and decided to examine his arteries--and found the problem on the right side of his chest.
"He's very fortunate," said cardiologist Anthony Reid, who performed the surgery at Centinela Hospital Medical Center. "It could've been a very serious problem. We caught it in the nick of time, so to speak.
"He took a small hit. Yes, it was a minor heart attack."
Angioplasty involves the inflation of a balloon inside the problem artery, which clears built-up lesions.
Reid said the blockage caused some slight damage to Lasorda's heart, but that it probably wasn't enough to hinder him in any way. The next step, the doctors said, was to wait until he can be moved out of intensive care, watch, and see when he could return home.
Then, the doctors said, they will determine when he will resume his 20th season as Dodger manager.
"I'm very optimistic that he's going to have a full recovery," Reid said. "What he did before the angioplasty, he can do again. He's an active guy for 68. I think that probably carried him through this, probably more comfortably than you or I would've."
Angioplasty patients normally return to work in a matter of days, Reid said, but neither Reid, team physician Michael Mellman nor any team officials would speculate on when Lasorda might resume managing.
Lasorda, though, definitely will not come back at least until after the seven-game trip that begins tonight in Denver.
"[The decision for him won't be based] on one particular fact or observation," Mellman said. "Basically, what we want to see is the calendar flip a few days and see that Tommy is fine."
Said Reid, who says he has had angioplasty patients return to work the day after surgery: "I see no reason why he couldn't return."
But, given Lasorda's age, his ulcer and his doctors' comments about changing his lifestyle to alleviate the heart problem, this jolt raised serious questions about how long Lasorda could--and should--remain in a job as stressful as managing the Dodgers.
Claire, for his part, said that his only thought was for Lasorda to get healthy, follow doctors' orders, and return to the team as quickly as he can.
"My main concern is Tommy's health, and there's not anything else that's even close in my mind," said Claire, who said he was certain Lasorda would return at some point this season. "We've just got to take short steps and see where we go. We're not going to make any decision without the doctors' advice."
Mellman broke the news of Lasorda's heart attack to the Dodgers in a clubhouse meeting before batting practice Wednesday, yet another seismic shock to a team that has experienced several this season already.
"I was very surprised, as much as anybody else," Russell said. "When Dr. Mellman gave us the news, a few guys gasped. The last thing on your mind was that Tommy had a heart problem.
"It was the same way with Brett Butler. We thought it was his tonsils, turned out to be cancer. But we know both guys are going to get through this healthy."
Claire said he is sure that Lasorda, known for his boundless energy, love of pasta and batting practice pitching, will listen to the warnings his doctors give him.
"My feeling is that Tommy will respond to this," Claire said. "My sense is that like others who have gone through this experience, you do respond to it."
Said first baseman Eric Karros: "Maybe he won't be trying to throw as much BP, but I don't see Tommy letting anything stop him. If Tommy can breathe and walk, he'll be out here on the field."
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Stopping heart attacks through angioplasty appears to save more lives than the leading therapy which consists of injecting clot-disolving drugs.
1. A stainless steel stent is placed inside a partially-blocked artery using a balloon catheter
2. The balloon catheter, with mesh-like net stent, is expanded. The plaque is pushed against the arterial wall, releasing the blood flow. After the balloon catheter has been removed, the stent keeps the artery fully open.