Mohd Azizulhasni recovering after heart surgery

Dato' Mohd Azizulhasni Awang

KUALA LUMPUR – National ace track cyclist Datuk Mohd Azizulhasni Awang is currently recovering after an open heart surgery to due to a rare heart condition known as anomalous aortic origin of right coronary artery (AAORCA) at the Epworth Richmond Hospital, Melbourne.

The 34-year-old, who is the country’s gold medal hopeful at the 2024 Paris Olympics, said he underwent a three-hour corrective surgery on April 21 for the rare heart condition, which brings the risk of cardiac arrest and sudden death if not treated immediately.

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He will continue to recover at Melbourne and likely will only return to training next year.

It means the two-time Olympics medallist will miss this year’s Birmingham Commonwealth Games and Hangzhou Asian Games, but he is determined to compete at the Paris Olympics.

“The medical team advised me to do the surgery as soon as possible because it’s a life-threatening situation. My (blood) vessels are clogged and leave only 20 per cent of the flow which is very minimal, furthermore, if I do a high-intensity workout.

“Even if I retired or not as active as I am now, I still have to do the surgery soon as my conditions will only get worse as I get older. As we get older, our heart muscles will only thicken, further reducing the blood flow,” he said during a virtual press conference from Melbourne today.

Mohd Azizulhasni said he first felt chest pains after a crash in Brisbane in 2019 during his run-up to the Tokyo Olympics, but tests at the hospital, including an electrocardiogram (ECG), showed everything was normal.

He said that upon resuming training after the post-Olympic break last November, he felt unusual pain in his chest like a heart attack, including sweating, and an examination with a consultant heart cardiologist in Melbourne, Dr Barveen Aisha, showed unusual ECG reading.

“Subsequent stress, echocardiogram and CT coronary angiogram examinations were all normal and it was only after the MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan in early December that the doctors informed me that I have a rare condition, which is only found in one per cent of the population.

“I opted for a second MRI and was still 50-50 (about undergoing surgery). But after consultations with consultant cardiothoracic surgeon Dr Aubrey Almeid, who is one of the best cardiac surgeons recommended to me by National Heart Institute (IJN) senior consultant cardiothoracic surgeon-cum-sports director Datuk Seri Dr Jeffrey Jeswant Dillon, I had the confidence to undergo surgery,” he said.

Speaking about his post-surgery process, the ‘Pocket Rocketman’ said he is still experiencing fatigue and has been advised to have a good rest for a few weeks.

Mohd Azizulhasni also thanked Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu, the ministry, Dr Jeffrey, National Sports Institute, National Sports Council (NSC), Olympic Council of Malaysia and the Malaysian National Cycling Federation for their assistance.

Meanwhile, Dr Jeffrey said the medical team opted for reimplantation of the right coronary artery through minimally invasive surgery via mini-sternotomy technique to hasten Mohd Azizulhasni’s recovery so that he can resume high-intensity training.

The heart, he said, is an organ that requires blood supply and that everyone has a left and right coronary artery. In AAORCA cases like Azizul’s, both the coronary arteries arise from the same aortic sinus, which then causes some problems, such as a lack of blood in the heart muscles, that require surgery.

The cost for the operation is covered under the NSC’s insurance scheme.

Mohd Azizulhasni, who was recently crowned the Sportsman of the Year for 2019/2020 for the fourth time after 2009, 2010 and 2017, became the country’s first cyclist to win an Olympic medal after bagging the keirin bronze at the 2016 Rio Olympics, before delivering the silver in Tokyo.

He also created history when he won the keirin event at the 2017 World Championships in Hong Kong.