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Gustavsson to have second heart procedure

Jonas Gustavsson will be lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs for a week to 10 days because he requires a second surgical procedure in an attempt to fix a heart problem.

The rookie goaltender will undergo the procedure today after experiencing a second episode of an elevated heart rate while playing hockey. Gustavsson, 25, had to leave Tuesday's game against the Montreal Canadiens after the first period when his heart started racing.

An examination by a Toronto cardiologist on Wednesday determined that a second procedure, called an ablation, was necessary. The procedure involves inserting a wire through the patient's groin, running it to the heart, where the part of the heart muscle that causes the problem is cauterized.

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However, according to a doctor who wished to remain unidentified, just because Gustavsson needs a second ablation does not mean his heart problem is serious. An ablation is a tricky procedure and it is not uncommon for a surgeon to miss the spot that needs to be fixed, which means the problem will come up again.

The good news, the doctor said, is that hitting the right spot the second time around is easier because of the knowledge gained from the first attempt. The success rate for the first ablation is 80 to 90 per cent and is even higher for a second one, the doctor said.

Elevated heart rates are caused by a sort of short circuit in which the signals coming from the heart muscle are crossed, causing the heart to beat much faster under stress. The ablation destroys the portion of the muscle tissue causing the problem.

If the problem is not corrected, the doctor said, blood can pool in the heart and cause the risk of a blood clot.

Requiring a second ablation is a cause for concern, the doctor said, but at this point it does not mean Gustavsson's NHL career is threatened.

The problem surfaced on the first day of training camp last September when Gustavsson, who was signed as a free agent, collapsed.

He had his first ablation a few days later.

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Gustavsson was out for three weeks after the first ablation but Leafs head coach Ron Wilson said it won't be that long this time.

"I don't know that it would be three weeks, I haven't heard that," said Wilson, who was in his 1,200th game as an NHL head coach last night. "I'm told it's not serious but obviously when you deal with the heart it is. But it's a fairly common procedure."

Once the procedure is finished, the patient's heart is repaired and ready for exercise. But there is a risk of infection from the incision in the groin area so a recovery period of a week to 10 days is the norm.

Joey MacDonald started in goal for the Maple Leafs last night against the Columbus Blue Jackets with Vesa Toskala serving as the backup. Toskala, who has been out with a groin injury, will start tomorrow night against the Boston Bruins.

The Leafs said yesterday that defenceman Carl Gunnarsson will be out for six weeks because of a hyperextended elbow suffered in Monday's game against the Buffalo Sabres.

While losing two players in one week has not helped, the Leafs are not using the misfortune to leap into the trade market for reinforcements.

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Wilson pointed out that he still has seven defencemen on the team. Jeff Finger was one of the top six last month when he got hurt, which created the vacancy that Gunnarsson turned into a full-time job because he played so well. Then Finger replaced Gunnarsson on Tuesday and scored a goal in the Canadiens game.

"We didn't miss Gunnarsson the other night, the way our defence played," Wilson said.

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