MLF veteran Ott DeFoe will not compete in Stage Eight in Wisconsin due to a newly diagnosed heart condition. Photo by Garrick Dixon

When the anglers of the Bass Pro Tour head out onto the waters of Lake Winnebago next week for Stage Eight in Neenah, Wisconsin, they’ll be minus one of their most successful, popular fellow competitors: Ott DeFoe.

Citing medical reasons, the veteran MLF pro will not compete in the final regular-season event of the year. Instead, he will remain in Knoxville, Tennessee, where he will undergo tests and corrective surgery for a newly discovered heart condition that DeFoe has quietly been feeling the affects of since he won the Bassmaster Classic in March.

DeFoe’s condition involves a torn mitral valve, which controls the flow of blood between the left atrium and ventricle of the heart. The tear in the valve causes improper blood flow through the left side of DeFoe’s heart, and contributes to the buildup of fluid in his lungs, causing shortness of breath, chronic cough and exhaustion.  

Short of breath since March

DeFoe first felt symptoms of the condition immediately after winning the Classic the third week of March. He experienced shortness of breath, and feelings of tiredness bordering on outright exhaustion heading into Bass Pro Tour Stage Three in Raleigh, North Carolina, the week after raising the Classic trophy.

“I just couldn’t breathe good, couldn’t get comfortable,” DeFoe said. “I finally got checked out, was diagnosed with bronchitis and put on (antibiotics). It improved a little, but not much.”

DeFoe persevered through the next four Bass Pro Tour stages – earning two Top 10s in the two most recent events on Table Rock Lake – but saw his symptoms progressively get worse.

“I walk up the stairs here and home and I’m totally out of breath,” DeFoe admitted. “We’ll go to the grocery store and I have to walk half as fast as everybody else because I just can’t breathe. I guess I’ve just gotten used to being short of breath, but it’s gotten worse – to the point where I just knew something wasn’t right.”

The road ahead

DeFoe returned to his doctor Monday of this week. An X-ray of his lungs showed they were clear, but an echocardiogram revealed the tear in his mitral valve.

DeFoe will return to the cardiologist next Monday, June 24 for a catheter exam of his heart, and meet with a surgeon on Tuesday to decide the next course of action. Initial prognosis is for minimally invasive surgery late next week to repair the damaged valve, with a seven- to 10-day recovery.

“I’m ready to get this taken care of,” DeFoe admitted. “The doctor I’m seeing is the very best in this area at fixing this valve of the heart. I’m not going to be there (in Wisconsin), but I still want to be engaged. I’ll be following along, rooting everybody on.”