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Rams interim coach Vitt undergoes angioplasty

ST. LOUIS (Oct. 31, 2005) -- Joe Vitt, the St. Louis Rams interim head coach while Mike Martz recovers from a heart ailment, underwent a heart procedure of his own.

The procedure, a cardiac catheterization, was so minor in nature that Vitt, 51, was back to work at Rams Park by lunchtime. He held his regular 3 p.m. postgame news conference, making a handful of jokes about his health. An angioplasty had been scheduled, the team said earlier, but doctors decided it was not necessary.

"I informed the team after the game that what I say in the locker room stays in the locker room," Vitt said. "Well, obviously, that didn't happen. By this afternoon, I was getting a heart transplant."

When a reporter asked whether he was eating right, he shot back: "Are you? This ain't so nice, what I'm looking at out here. You guys don't look like you're poster children for the Institute of Health.

"Don't worry about me, I'm fine."

Vitt said he checked into a hospital at 6 a.m. and was gone by noon. Martz was there, too, for a sinus operation.

"We looked like grumpy old men," Vitt said. "I tell you, it was a sore sight."

Last spring, Vitt underwent a heart scan that detected some calcium, and was put on cholesterol medicine, which doctors believe contributed to his being hospitalized for three days in August with a staph infection in his left hand. He had scheduled an appointment the first day of the Rams' bye week for a catheterization that would inspect the arteries.

Back then, Vitt was the linebackers coach and assistant head coach and assumed this procedure would not be news. He was appointed interim coach two weeks ago when Martz stepped down for the season due to a heart valve problem.

"It just so happens I was put in the position of interim head coach and everybody knows about it," Vitt said. "My main arteries are great, the doctor says I look great, so here I am."

Cardiac catheterization is a minimally invasive procedure in which a long thin tube is guided into the heart, usually through a blood vessel in the leg or arm. Once inside the heart, it can be used to diagnose or treat a problem.

Martz, 54, is being treated for endocarditis, an infection of the lining or the valves of the heart. He has taken antibiotics, though some people with the potentially fatal illness require open-heart surgery.

Vitt has been an NFL assistant coach for 26 years. He was hired by Martz last season.

Vitt has had health problems before. He has recovered from two bouts of testicular cancer, the first when he was 23, the second nearly 20 years ago.

The Rams (4-4) lost their first game under Vitt against the unbeaten Indianapolis Colts. Then they won their next two, including a victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Oct. 30. Their next game will be Nov. 13 at Seattle.

AP NEWS
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