CHARLOTTE, N.C. – J.J. Watt and his wife Kealia have spent the past few months looking at ultrasounds of their unborn son and wishing for the best.
They never thought they’d be looking at pictures of Watt's own heart.
“It’s been a week. I’m happy to be here. Happy to...,” an emotional Watt said as his voice trailed off and he took a moment to gain control of his emotions.
The three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year helped the Cardinals beat the Carolina Panthers 26-16 on Sunday, just three days after having his heart shocked into rhythm after going into atrial fibrillation.
“I talked to cardiologists and electrophysiologists from all over the country," Watt said. "I was assured multiple times from multiple people that there was nothing else you could do. I could play like normal and something could happen the next day or never again in 20 years. So I was assured and I went back to practice on Friday and here we are.
“Obviously it’s been a very emotional week for me and my family — for my wife and for myself," he added.
Watt found out Sunday that a media outlet planned to break the story about his medical condition, which upset him.
To get ahead of the news Watt tweeted just hours before kickoff that "I was just told somebody leaked some personal information about me and it’s going to be reported on today. I went into A-Fib on Wednesday, had my heart shocked back into rhythm on Thursday and I’m playing today. That’s it.”
After the game Watt said he felt betrayed that someone shared his private medical information with the media.
“The only people that knew were my family and people in the building,” Watt said.
Watt added: “Injuries, I don’t care. You leak injuries. That’s football. But this one was very emotional for me, so it was upsetting.”
Watt had a key fourth quarter deflection of Baker Mayfield's pass at the line of scrimmage that led to Dennis Gardeck's interception and helped the Cardinals take a 20-10 lead in the fourth quarter.
He finished with three tackles and two pass breakups.
“It shows you what kind of a person and competitor and human being he is. He’s special," Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “We’re all obviously worried when he wasn’t around for a couple of days handling that. I think it was definitely inspiring for all of us. He played at a really high level and continues to amaze that type of person and player that he is.”
Added Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray: “It was big time having him out there — and I’m glad he’s OK."
Atrial fibrillation is defined as a “an irregular and often very rapid heart rhythm that can lead to blood clots in the heart,” according to the Mayo Clinic. That can increase the risk of stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications if not properly addressed.
Watt is returning quickly from a health scare as the league faces critcism for the handling of concussed Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa over the past week.
The NFL Players Association on Saturday fired the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant who cleared Tagovailoa to play after he slammed his head on the turf and stumbled trying to walk it off, a person familiar with the decision told The Associated Press. The person confirmed the firing on condition of anonymity because a joint review by the NFL and its players’ union into Tagovailoa’s quick return to that game is ongoing.
The 33-year-old Watt said his wife was by his side the entire time, even as he had to be under anesthesia to have the heart shocked.
He doesn’t know what caused the irregular heartbeat, but admitted the experience frightened him.
“I’ve had, obviously, surgeries before and injuries before,” Watt said. “And I’ve never been nervous for any of them. I’ve never been scared of anesthesia. I’ve never been scared of pain. But when they told me they were going to put me out and shock my heart, I was scared.”
Watt said he was thankful to be healthy enough to play.
And now he's looking forward to seeing his son, who is due in two weeks.
“I’m glad it all worked out,” Watt said. “I’m glad I had good people taking care of me. And I’m glad I’m here today.”
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