Wells had ephedra scare as Oriole

Supplement use blamed for 1996 hospitalization

Baseball

February 23, 2003|By NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

TAMPA, Fla. - The heart palpitations started on a Sunday night in March 1996 as David Wells sat in his hotel room after a day of spring training workouts with the Orioles.

When Wells arrived at Fort Lauderdale Stadium for work the next morning, his heart was still speeding. By that afternoon, Wells was admitted to Holy Cross Hospital, intravenous tubes in his arms, his heart pounding and his mind racing.

At one point, doctors measured his heartbeat at nearly 200 beats per minute. Wells had an irregular heartbeat, the doctors told him, and they recommended stopping his heart, then starting it again by shocking it with a defibrillator.

"They put me out for two minutes and shocked my heart to get a regular beat again," Wells said.

Wells relived the experience on Friday as he discussed the use of supplements containing ephedra - which is in the news again because a Florida medical examiner linked the stimulant to the death of Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler, 23.

At the time, Wells thought the spasms in his chest were caused by too much caffeine or a change in allergy medication, but Friday, he blamed the frightening episode on an ephedra supplement, Ripped Fuel. He had taken it twice a day for about a week - once in the morning and once in the evening - after teammates told him it would give him a boost and perhaps help him lose weight.

"It curbed my appetite a little bit," he said.

Yet despite the fear he felt at the time, Wells still uses a supplement that contains ephedra.

While talking to a reporter before Friday's workout at Legends Field, Wells reached into his locker, grabbed a bottle of Hydroxycut, unscrewed the cap and popped a capsule, washing it down with a swig of water.

Yankees manager Joe Torre will talk with Wells about the pitcher's use of ephedra.

"I'm just going to tell him, like we tell all the players, make sure you take care of your body," Torre said yesterday. "That's basically what it's going to be about. He's a grown up. Especially now with the attention that this has gotten, I think everybody should check their labels."

Wells, now 39, was able to get back on the field quickly in 1996, and didn't seem to suffer any further effects from the heart episode. He made 34 starts for the Orioles that season, going 11-14 with a 5.14 ERA, and beat the Yankees in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium.

But he's also undaunted because he says he now knows how to use the stimulant. That's why he says all the talk about banning supplements that contain ephedra "is stupid," although he says he never used Ripped Fuel again.

Wells says a player should have the right to use the stimulant - as long as he uses it correctly. Besides, adds Wells, as long as teams continue to put pressure on players to control their weight, they ought to expect them to use ephedra.

"It wasn't an issue until this one guy [Bechler] did it," Wells said. "But he did it all wrong. I feel bad for him and his family and friends. He probably just overdid it. I overdid it and I had a situation, too."

Wells says he uses Hydroxycut only "every now and then. Other guys take a [ton]. But people might be getting carried away saying it should be banned. They're blowing it out of proportion, especially [Orioles owner Peter] Angelos, because it's his team."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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