FLOWERY BRANÇH, GA. -- Atlanta Falcons rookie offensive lineman Kaleb McGary, a first-round draft pick from Washington, spoke optimistically about his recovery from a heart procedure as he returned to full practice this week.
McGary underwent a cardiac ablation -- a procedure that can correct heart rhythm problems -- on July 31. It was similar to the two, minimally invasive procedures he had undergone in the past.
"Feels good to move around again, not just sit here and pick my butt all day, so it's nice,'' McGary said Monday. "It's awesome [to return]. It's been really boring just sitting through meetings and not getting to do anything at practice. The little bit of gratification you get throughout the day is gone, so it's been really awesome to get to play again.''
Asked if his recovery has come along faster than expected, McGary responded, "I wouldn't say it's faster than I thought it would be. I tried to really just keep my expectations low and just go along with what the docs say. I'm returning at the pace that the doctors say I should return at and listening to what the team tells me to do. I'm just taking it as fast or as slow as I'm told.''
McGary explained that the procedure was not an atrial fibrillation, as in the past, but a ventricular tachycardia ablation, which is a procedure to eliminate the areas of the heart where erratic electrical signals come up that result in the heart beating ineffectively.
"A-fib's been gone. It was actually a separate rhythm called V-tach, which I had in college,'' McGary said. "They didn't think they quite got rid of it, so I still had a little bit. It just didn't surface until recently, for whatever reason.
"And it was a number to have to deal with it again. Of course, no one wants to go through heart surgery, whether it's minor or not. Not exactly my idea of a fun Wednesday night, you know? But, you know, it could have been a lot worse. There's not much to complain about. So, I'm happy with how things have gone and how they went. And I'm confident that they did what they could to fix the problem. Yeah, I'm happy with where I am.''
Dr. Ronald Berger, a Chicago-based cardiologist, explained the primary difference between the atrial fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia ablations: The A-Fib is at the top of heart and typically safer to work in. The main concern with A-Fib is the risk of stroke, not sudden death, which can occur with V-tach. It's not common to have both irregularities, said Berger, who did not personally treat McGary and is not connected with the team.
Berger explained how the V-tach procedure can take up to five hours but that patients can be back on their feet normally within a week, barring complications. From a football player's perspective, that doesn't mean an immediate return to the field.
"It's the vascular issues that you're worried about because you're putting a catheter, which is a tube, into an artery and/or a vein, and that has to heal,'' Berger said. "From a football player's standpoint, that's what's really the limiting step in the recovery process: When is that incision, that little hole in the artery and/or vein, healed enough that he can return to full contact?"
Falcons coach Dan Quinn said he would determine McGary's playing status for Thursday's preseason finale at Jacksonville by Tuesday. McGary split reps at right tackle with veteran Ty Sambrailo before the procedure. Now, it is up in the air who will start the Sept. 8 season opener at Minnesota between Sambrailo, who has been limited by a shoulder injury, McGary and second-year player Matt Gono. Neither McGary nor Gono has started an NFL game.
"I feel comfortable with all three guys,'' offensive line coach Chris Morgan said. "All three guys are working hard. All three guys are coming along every day.''
McGary returned to light work with a helmet during the team's Aug. 19 indoor practice. His activity appeared to increase before last week's preseason matchup against the Washington Redskins.
McGary couldn't say he is definitely ready for game action.
"I mean, that's not really my call,'' he said. "I know it's a pretty boring answer, but it's just kind of the truth. I don't make those calls. I'm a football player, so I love to play football. Any chance of playing football is better than not. But I need to be smart and I need to listen to what the trainers and the doctors say. If Coach thinks that I should play, I will. If he thinks I shouldn't, then I'll sit on the sidelines supporting my brothers and helping any way that I can.''
McGary talked about what advice the doctors gave him on how to proceed from here.
"Kind of the weird thing about this stuff is, unlike a legitimate injury, there's not a lot you can do necessarily to recover or really prevent, it's really just about keeping an eye on it,'' McGary said. "I did a very serious stress test and stuff like that to measure my cardiac output, CO2 levels, oxygen intake and all of that. I was told the numbers looked good. I'm sure I'll probably have to repeat that.''
"Hopefully not very many,'' McGary said. "That was a very small seat on that bike. My butt still hurts.''
The Falcons will have three new starters on the offensive line with first-rounder Chris Lindstrom at right guard, McGary, Gono or Sambrailo at right tackle, and either James Carpenter or Jamon Brown at left guard. Pro Bowl center Alex Mack anchors the line with Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Matthews the other returning starter.