“You can thrive with AFib!”

Former professional basketball player and all-around athlete Jon Darsee spends his life courting fitness and fun—and managing his AFib

By
Health Monitor Staff
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Most basketball players would love to be mentioned in the same breath as Larry Bird, Bill Bradley or Jerry West—except when it comes to atrial fibrillation (AFib), a diagnosis shared by that elite group. Yet that’s precisely where Jon Darsee finds himself. A 6'6" small forward/shooting guard who helped the Iowa Hawkeyes to the Final Four of the 1980 NCAA championship, he went on to play professionally in Brazil. And after his playing days were over, the AFib kicked in.

He was building a successful second career—ironically, selling devices that assess AFib patients remotely and relay data to doctors—when he noticed it. “I was driving home one day and I feel this thing. So I strap a monitor on and call one of my accounts, a Harvard teaching hospital, and they said, ‘Yeah, you’re in AFib.’ ”

His initial reaction was not one of fear, or concern about his future. “I was embarrassed,” he admits. “Having been a professional athlete, you pretty much think you’re invincible to physical ailments.”

“I tried wishing it away”
Jon looked for any excuse to not take it seriously. He chalked it up to long hours, business travel, going through a divorce and downing espresso for breakfast. It happens so infrequently, he told himself. Maybe I can just address it with lifestyle. So instead of starting the treatment that his doctor suggested, Jon looked to changing his habits. He swore off coffee, improved his diet, started meditating more and even tried acupuncture. Alas, the AFib didn’t let up: In fact, the episodes started coming more frequently
and lasting longer.

“Medication brought me peace of mind”
Realizing he “couldn’t wish it away,” Jon finally agreed to go on heart rhythm medication. For years, the AFib was less of a burden. Then, just last year, he experienced a TIA—a transient ischemic attack, or “mini stroke”—in a business meeting. His doctors adjusted the dose of his antiarrhythmic drug and started him on a blood thinner, which is pivotal for reducing his risk of stroke. Today, he’s not only feeling better than ever, but grateful for the peace of mind. 

Jon’s strategies for feeling your very best!
Ask your healthcare provider if these tips can help you, too!

Work with—not against—your doctor. After experiencing a mini-stroke, Jon realized that being “in denial” about the need to treat his AFib with medication (a blood thinner and an anti-arrhythmic) could have cost him his life. Now that he’s following his treatment plan, he not only feels better, but knows his stroke risk has been slashed.

Know your triggers… Jon uses a journal to figure out what puts him into AFib. His top triggers: stress and alcohol. One entry reads: “I went out for a run, took a difficult work call in the middle of the workout and went right into AFib…. I should have paid attention. I knew I was at risk: on the road, slept poorly three straight nights and had a beer three nights running.”

…and tame them! Since nearly eliminating alcohol and amping up his hydration, Jon goes into AFib much less often. “I’m also getting better at managing work balance, meditating more, eating less, sleeping more, exercising regularly—reducing anything in my influence that creates more stress.”

Look for your silver lining. “AFib is an issue I have to deal with; I have to respect it, and it’s created a lot more humility in me,” he says. “It’s really tempered the way I look at things and probably created a lot more compassion in me for others.”

Find your AFib inspiration! Jon only has to look to his 81-year-old mother: She also has AFib but still plays tennis three times a week! “It’s a manageable condition if you approach it right, get the right info and react to it,” he encourages. “A lot of people live well with AFib.”

Published
September 2015