Last week, UFC Fighter Dan “The Outlaw” Hardy announced he was out of the UFC on Fox 7 card against Matt “The Immortal” Brown with a “wolf” heart condition. While most fighters announce they are out of a card due to an injury, Dan’s story was a little different. Pre-fight tests showed Dan Hardy’s Wolf Heart condition is a syndrome called Wolf-Parkinson-White, which is an abnormality in the conduction system of the heart.
Here we will discuss the intricacies of the heart’s electrical system and what it means for Dan Hardy’s Wolf Heart and other athletes with this heart condition
The heart’s job is to pump blood to the lungs to get oxygen, receive that blood back, pump it to the rest of the body, and then re-collect it to start the process again. The heart has four chambers, each of which is responsible for one of the four tasks mentioned. The heartbeat that you can hear with a stethoscope is actually the sound of valves between each of these chambers closing after the blood has flowed to its next destination. The coordination of each of these chambers requires a finely tuned electrical conduction system.
The heart muscle cells are triggered to contract by a wave of electricity that starts at the top of the heart (the Sinus or SA node) and spreads across the top two chambers (the left and right atrium) causing them to squeeze blood towards the bottom of the heart. The electrical signal then triggers another node (the AV node) above the bottom two larger chambers (the left and right ventricles). From the AV node, a bundle of electrical fibers travel to the two large ventricle chambers which causes them to contract, squeezing the blood to the lungs and the rest of the body (right goes to lungs, left goes to the rest of the body).
In people with Wolf-Parkinson-White syndrome, there is an extra pathway that bypasses the AV node and goes straight from the left and right atrium to the left and right ventricles. This alters the coordination of the heart and can cause the ventricles to squeeze before they have had a chance to fill completely with blood. As a result, less blood gets pumped out of the heart for each heartbeat. Many people are without symptoms, but on occasion someone may show signs of dizziness, fainting, or heart palpitations. In really bad cases, the whole heart loses its coordination and sudden death can occur.
The diagnosis is usually made by an electrical heart monitor called an EKG. We have also seen the spikey pattern on a heart monitor in the movies before it flatlines and someone dies. That spiking pattern represent s very specific electrical discharges from different parts of the heart. The EKG is also sometimes called an ECG. This is just because EKG is based on the German word electrokardiogram, and the English version is electrocardiogram with a “c”.
When the EKG pattern is disrupted, it means something is wrong with the heart’s electrical activity. In the case of Wolf Parkinson White syndrome, the abnormality is called a “delta” wave because it looks the Greek letter delta. Patients with this condition must be careful what heart drugs they take, because they can make the electrical abnormalities even worse.
If a fighter or other athlete is diagnosed with Dan Hardy’s Heart Condition aka Wolf-Parkinson-White syndrome, they should see a heart specialist (cardiologist). He or she should not fight until a cardiologist says it’s OK to fight. The cardiologist may order something called a stress test which is a way of seeing how your heart functions during exercise, since as it beats faster, the coordination may get out of control. This test can be done on a treadmill with an EKG, or a medication can be given to speed up the heart.
If a cardiologist thinks that the abnormality is kept under control, then no medication or intervention is necessary. However, if the stress test shows that the heart becomes even more out of control with exercise, he may order medication. The most definitive treatment is a procedure known as radiofrequency ablation, in which specialized instruments are used to “burn away” the abnormal heart pathway. This helps restore the coordination of the heart.
Dan Hardy appears to have undergone these tests, but the California State Athletic Committee is playing it safe and keeping Hardy off the UFC on Fox 7 card and out of action for now. After all, bone and tendon injuries heal, but a heart that stops beating may not come back! Dan has shown us he can be as tenacious as a wolf; now we know he has a “wolf” heart to go with it.