Hearn improving after heart surgeryPosted: Thursday December 20, 2001 3:02 PM
Updated: Thursday December 20, 2001 10:34 PM
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Chick Hearn, recovering from open heart surgery, missed the Los Angeles Lakers' game Thursday night, ending the announcer's string of consecutive games at 3,338.
The 85-year-old Hearn received a new aortic valve during a 2 1/2-hour operation Wednesday night. His condition was upgraded to serious but stable, and his doctor told reporters the broadcaster appears to be making a strong recovery.
"He's been joking around so he's feeling pretty well," said Dr. Michael Soltero, who performed the surgery at Northridge Hospital Medical Center.
Hearn, who last missed a Lakers' game on Nov. 20, 1965, was replaced by Paul Sunderland on Thursday night in Houston for the Lakers' game against the Rockets.
"Hello everyone. I'm Stu Lantz and I know what you're thinking. Where's Chick? Well, Chick underwent successful surgery yesterday and he's recovering. We wish him the very, very best and a speedy recovery," Lantz told Los Angeles television viewers moments before the game began.
"And knowing Chick, if the doctors say he's going to be sidelined for four weeks or so it'll be a lot shorter than that," Lantz added. "You can't keep Chick down for very long. He's the best at what he does and we're praying for a speedy recovery."
Sunderland said he has no intention of taking Hearn's job.
"I'm not replacing Chick, that's the first thing people should know," he said. "I'm just filling in until Chick comes back and from all reports, his surgery went perfectly and he will fully recover and be back calling the plays."
Hearn was expected to be discharged in about a week and to be able to resume working in about six weeks, the hospital said.
"It's going to be weird without him," Lantz said. "It's the strangest feeling I've ever had in this business. It's so weird. The Lakers are playing and Chick isn't here."
Hearn missed the 1965 game when bad weather kept him from making a flight.
"The one constant over all these years is Chick and he's not here," Lantz said. "The players know he had surgery and they still can't believe it. They are still coming up and saying `so Chick's not here, huh?'"
Hearn has been the Lakers' only play-by-play announcer since the team moved to Los Angeles from Minneapolis at the beginning of the 1960-61 season.
Soltero said about 80 percent of the blood flow through Hearn's aortic valve had been blocked, putting extra stress on his heart and leaving him fatigued.
The valve was replaced with one made of cow tissue, which Soltero said has a very good record of success.
Hearn's wife, Marge, told a news conference Thursday night she suspected her husband was watching the Lakers-Rockets game on television in his hospital room.
"If we sneak up there, I bet he's watching," she said.
Hearn originally planned to have the operation after Christmas, but his wife said it became clear Wednesday that he couldn't wait.
"I could tell that he was not making good time. He could hardly walk from the den to the kitchen," she said.