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Heart problems sideline Lewis Celtic, out for rest of playoffs, severs himself from team care


BOSTON -- A serious heart condition appears to have caused Boston Celtics star Reggie Lewis to pass out during the first quarter of Thursday's playoff game, a team of nearly a dozen Boston cardiac specialists concluded yesterday.

A statement released by the Celtics through New England Baptist Hospital described Lewis as suffering from "cardiac abnormalities." But a knowledgeable source told the Boston Globe that Lewis appears to have "focal cardiomyopathy," a condition that damages an area of heart tissue and can cause it to beat irregularly.

Lewis, 27, who played at Baltimore's Dunbar High School, will miss the rest of the playoffs. The effect on his career was uncertain.

Late last night, Lewis left the hospital, checked into Brigham and Women's Hospital and disassociated himself from the care of the Celtics and those who had treated him.

The departure stunned hospital and Celtic officials, but Celtics CEO Dave Gavitt said through a spokesman that there was no animosity between Lewis and the team and that he understood Lewis wanted to seek other opinions.

The Celtics' statement earlier in the day had said that further tests would be required "over the next several weeks" before the proper method of treatment could be determined.

The Globe source described the implications of the disease as "very, very complicated."

"If you nearly lose consciousness, you fall into the category of Hank Gathers," the source said. Gathers, a star at Loyola Marymount who was taking medication for a heart ailment, collapsed during an NCAA game March 4, 1990, and died less than two hours later. An autopsy determined that Gathers died of cardiomyopathy.

Lewis, the team captain and leading scorer, had scored 10 points in the first three minutes of Thursday's playoff game against Charlotte at Boston Garden when, 2 1/2 minutes later, he stumbled and collapsed face first while running down the left side of the floor.

The Celtics initially believed that he had suffered a blow to the head. Three minutes later, Lewis was sent back into the game, but he lasted just more than a minute before coming out. He tried to play again in the second half, but came out when he became dizzy.

Lewis underwent testing and was admitted to New England Baptist on Friday. When the heart abnormalities were discovered, the Celtics, led by team doctor Arnold Scheller, assembled a team of top cardiac specialists from the Boston area. The team met at the hospital for two hours yesterday before releasing the statement.

The statement issued after the evaluation said: "Initial cardiac evaluation of Reggie Lewis has now been completed. Cardiac abnormalities have been identified. They are likely to have contributed to his loss of consciousness during Thursday night's game. Further tests are required over the next several weeks to determine the proper method of treatment."

As doctors continue to evaluate Lewis' condition, one question that is likely to be revisited is why the Celtics allowed Lewis to go back into the game when it became clear Thursday night that something was wrong.

Although team officials thought Lewis had suffered a blow to the head, they discovered after reviewing a replay at halftime that he had fallen on his own. Gavitt said during the weekend that he asked Scheller if he was "a hundred percent" sure that it was safe for Lewis to play and received assurances that it was. Scheller, who last addressed Lewis' condition Thursday, declined to comment yesterday.

Lewis had a similar episode March 24 during a game with Miami. He said he became dizzy and nearly blacked out. But the incident was dismissed after Lewis said he had ingested some bad grapefruit juice.

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