BRUSSELS, March 22, 2013 (AFP) – Cycling legend Eddy Merckx has been fitted
with a cardiac pacemaker to correct a heart rhythm problem, he was quoted as
saying in a newspaper interview on Friday.
The 67-year-old told the Belgian daily Het Nieuwsblad that the operation
was performed at a clinic in the northern city of Genk on Thursday and was
done as a precautionary measure.
“I was operated on by doctor Johan Van Lierde, a friend of mine,” said
Merckx, a five-time winner of cycling’s greatest race, the Tour de France. “My
heart rate has been under 40 (beats per minute) since birth or thereabouts.
“As a result it was wise to take preventative measures to avoid certain
problems, particularly at night.”
The pacemaker is designed to give an electric charge allowing the heart to
beat at a more regular frequency.
“I’m now happy about all this,” added Merckx, who was due to leave hospital
on Friday and could be given the all-clear to get back on his bike in about
two weeks’ time.
A biography of the cyclist, published in March last year, said that he had
a heart problem from the start of his career and should never have even
“Eddy Merckx, The Cannibal”, by Daniel Friebe, quoted Italian cardiologist
Giancarlo Lavezzaro, who examined the cyclist during the 1968 Tour of Italy,
as saying that he “rode his entire career with a sword of Damacles over his
Lavezzero concluded that Merckx had a non-obstructive hypertrophic
cardiomyopathy — a genetic condition in which the heart muscle thickens,
affecting its functioning.
Symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain, palpitations,
lightheadedness, fatigue and fainting. The condition is the leading cause of
sudden death in young athletes.
Merckx, who was not told the doctor’s conclusions, said later that he
always knew he had an “odd heart” that was “particularly big”, adding that his
father and uncles all died young of heart problems.