Popular pro wrestling commentator Jerry “The King” Lawler is in stable but guarded condition after suffering a heart attack during WWE’s nationally televised Monday Night Raw show.
The 62-year-old Lawler, whose voice has been a staple of WWE programming for two decades, had been heavily sedated and on a respirator since surgery early Tuesday to place three stents into his heart. He also underwent an angioplasty where a balloon was used to clear blocked and clogged arteries.
Doctors plan to take Lawler off the ventilator as soon as possible. The ventilator provides breathing support to assist the body following surgery.
His ex-wife, Stacy Carter, posted on her Facebook page Tuesday that Lawler was being taken out of sedation and was responsive following the heart procedures. She said there was some concern over the possibility of brain damage.
“It took a while to revive him last night, so there’s the concern of brain damage. He had some tests done which will show how much if any damage there is due to the lack of oxygen to his brain. Unfortunately the results won’t be in until in the morning.”
Lawler, who had performed in a tag-team match 30 minutes earlier, collapsed while doing commentary on the top-rated wrestling show.
A spectator at the Bell Centre in Montreal reported seeing Lawler hunched over and convulsing at the announce desk. He later collapsed from his chair while his broadcast partner, Michael Cole, frantically signaled for help.
Paramedics immediately responded to the fallen announcer, carted him off to the backstage area in a stretcher, and administered CPR that was credited with saving his life. Lawler was transported to a local hospital.
Dr. Kevin Campbell, a cardiologist at Wake Heart and Vascular in Raleigh, N.C., told The Post and Courier on Tuesday that he watched video of the event and believes Lawler suffered a massive heart attack before going into cardiac arrest.
“That’s a dangerous heart rhythm called ventricular fibrillation,” said Campbell. “Without electrical shock and chest compressions — which all happened on the sidelines — he would have died. But they resuscitated him and saved his life because there was a physician right by his side when this all went down.”
Campbell said Lawler was extremely fortunate to have had medical personnel on hand with such a timely response.
“The only place better would have been if he were in a hospital visiting someone in the emergency room,” said Campbell. “I really think the wrestling organization and those in that facility in Montreal should be commended because they’re responsible for saving that man’s life.”
There had been reports that Lawler may have been clinically dead for up to 20 minutes before being revived.
“The longer you’re down and without a pulse, and the longer CPR goes on, the chances of recovery go down exponentially,” said Campbell. “The thing that’s in his favor is the quicker you initiate CPR and the quicker you use a defibrillator, the more survival goes up. We just don’t know enough about how long CPR was and how long it took before they were able to get a pulse.”
The most critical time for Lawler, said Campbell, is the first 24 to 48 hours.
“You want to see how much neurological function returns. If you’re on a ventilator or a breathing machine, you have him sedated. You’ll try to lighten up that sedation and try to get him breathing on his own. And then it’s a matter of how much neurologic function comes back. You hope its’ a hundred percent and he lives a normal life, but you just don’t know at this stage.”
The WWE Hall of Famer has worked as a wrestler and commentator for WWE since 1992. He began his ring career more than two decades earlier and became one of the most well-known figures in the business.
Billed as “The King of Memphis,” Lawler made a name for himself on the Tennessee circuit where he gained national attention for his rivalry with late comedian Andy Kaufman. Years later Lawler recreated the feud with Jim Carrey on the set of the Kaufman biopic “Man on the Moon.” Lawler reportedly complained to a friend of chest pains last week but blew it off as indigestion.
A number of factors, says Campbell, could have been involved in the heart event.
“His diet may not have been very good. He may have had hypertension, high cholesterol or a family history. These are the questions I would ask him if I were the cardiologist operating on him.”
Lawler, who typically works a couple of shows a week, had appeared on a show in Aruba over the weekend before flying to Montreal for Raw.
Had the heart attack occurred on a plane, says Campbell, his chances of survival most likely would have diminished.
“If it were a plane like American Airlines which carries defibrillators onboard, there would have been a chance that someone could have hooked the defibrillator up to him and saved his life until they landed the plane.”
Campbell says the heart attack most likely would have occurred in the near future if it had not happened Monday night at the show.
“I think it would have happened at some point because he had these blockages. What happens when you have a heart attack is that you might have a 75 or 80 percent blockage, and then all of a sudden you have an event where that plaque in the artery ruptures and occludes the vessel all the way. When it’s 100 percent, that’s the heart attack.”
It’s difficult to determine, he says, exactly what triggered the attack.
“It may have been all the stress from the travel, it could have been because he just wrestled a match. It could have been all of what was going on. But the plaque ruptured and he occluded that vessel and had that cardiac arrest.”
While Campbell says he wouldn’t necessarily discourage a 62-year-old man from competing in a strenuous activity such as wrestling, he would urge individuals to consult with a physician and have tests done.
“I’ve got lots of 62-year-old patients who are very physically fit. I certainly think that in your 60’s you need to see a physician and make sure your risk factors that are there are modified. You need to be screened for high blood pressure and high cholesterol. You need to watch your diet. If you have a family history of coronary artery disease or heart attack, you probably need to have a screening stress test just to make sure there’s nothing going on.”
Sixteen-time world heavyweight champion Ric Flair, who is 63, defended Lawler wrestling at his age.
“Jerry does it for the love of the business. He’s certainly not doing it for the money,” Flair said Tuesday. “I used to beg Vince (McMahon) to wrestle, and he finally told me one day that I had to retire.”
Flair, who noted medical advances in the business along with medical care being present at the shows, added that Lawler still brings a lot to the WWE table.
“Jerry is better than 70 percent of the guys on the show right now. And it’s really not a question of being better. The kids today just don’t have the chance to acquire the skills that Jerry has acquired over 40 years.”
“We are hopeful Jerry makes a full recovery and returns to WWE in the near future. Our thoughts are with Jerry and his family,” WWE said on its website.
Sudden cardiac arrest claims the lives of more than half a million people in the United States. It is the leading killer in this country second only to all types of cancers combined.
“That’s powerful,” said Campbell. “Hopefully he can have a full recovery and be a real spokesperson for taking control of your own heart health. We really can use this as an opportunity to arise awareness about the risk of sudden cardiac death and how we need defibrillators in public places.”
That it happened at a nationally televised event with medical personnel on hand was fortunate for Lawler.
“The stars were aligned for this to happen,” said Campbell, “and the outcome hopefully will continue to progress.”
Reach Mike Mooneyham at 843-937-5517 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter at @ByMikeMooneyham and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MikeMooneyham.
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