'Dancing With the Stars' One Star Short of a Finale

Vegas legend Wayne Newton's cardiomyopathy has sidelined his dance foray.

January 8, 2009, 1:30 AM

Nov. 20, 2007 — -- Within the chest of legendary performer Wayne Newton beats the heart of an entertainer.

Over a period of more than 40 years, the 65-year-old singer has performed more than 30,000 solo shows in Las Vegas -- an impressive record that earned him the moniker "Mr. Las Vegas." And even those too young to remember his debut as a star in the early '60s can croon along with him to his signature song "Danke Schoen."

But now, a heart condition that affects about 3 million Americans has put the brakes on Newton's fancy footwork at least through the Nov. 27 finale of "Dancing With the Stars."

Newton is battling cardiomyopathy, a viral infection of the heart, said his spokeswoman Lori Jonas. According to Jonas, he will not be performing at the finale of this year's "Dancing" competition, although he should be healthy enough to make an appearance.

The viral cardiomyopathy infection has also forced him to cancel a two-month engagement at Harrah's in Las Vegas.

Newton was previously treated for cardiomyopathy in 2001 while performing USO tours in Afghanistan. His spokeswoman said this is a separate and new viral infection.

Cardiomyopathy is a form of heart disease in which the actual heart muscle deteriorates, causing it to grow and thicken. This enlargement makes it increasingly difficult for the heart to efficiently pump blood throughout the body. In turn, the stress and strain placed on a heart trying to adequately supply the body with blood can cause it to weaken and could eventually lead to heart failure.

"The danger that we're most concerned with is that the heartbeat rhythm would become irregular and the patient could have sudden cardiac arrest," said Dr. Richard Stein, director of the Urban Community Cardiology Program at New York University Medical School.

Stein adds that Newton's participation on "Dancing With the Stars" could have been challenging much more than just his ability to dance.

"There's no question that the extreme physical stress and adrenaline that he would feel performing in front of an audience represents a danger, as well as a danger in training and rehearsing."

Fortunately, the average American's heart will never experience the physical stress and adrenaline rush associated with cha-chaing across the dance floor in front of an audience of millions -- but that does not eliminate them from a potentially dangerous tango with cardiomyopathy.

"Currently there are roughly 3 million people in the United States who are affected by cardiomyopathy. That's a lifetime risk of about 1 in 5," said Dr. Michael Cuffe, chief medical officer and vice president of the Duke University Health System, adding, "The American Heart Association reports about 550,000 new cases each year."

According to Cuffe, there is no single cause for contracting the disease.

"There are many causes of cardiomyopathy, including high blood pressure, coronary artery disease and viral infections," he said.

And for those diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, the long-term prognosis, according to Cuffe, can be grim.

"Unfortunately, the long-term prognosis is not good," he said. "Typically half of all patients will die between five and seven years of being diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, which is quite a poor prognosis. Those who are sicker, older, weaker or have fluid build-up do even worse. About half of those patients can die within one to two years."

The treatment options for cardiomyopathy patients vary according to what caused the cardiomyopathy in the first place. If an individual's high blood pressure is to blame, then blood pressure control techniques and medications such as ACE inhibitors will be prescribed.

Likewise, if a blockage is causing the cardiomyopathy, then medications such as beta blockers will be used. In the most severe cases, internal cardiac defibrillators are implanted in the patient's chest.

Although cardiomyopathic patients have a weakened heart, doctors say they shouldn't tap dance around the issue of exercise.

"Just because an individual has a cardiomyopathy does not mean that they cannot exercise," said Dr. Barry Franklin, the director of the Cardiac Rehabilitation and Exercise Laboratories at William Beaumont Hospital.

"We have many people in my program who have cardiomyopathy, but that's not to say that those individuals, the vast majority of them, cannot be involved in a moderate exercise program," he said.

Franklin recommends a moderate walking program for most of his cardiomyopathy patients. But for the patients he considers "reasonably fit," he recommends a two- to three-mile walk on a slightly graded treadmill.

Duke's Cuffe recommends exercise programs as well, as long as cardiomyopathy symptoms are kept under control.

"As long as folks are stable and know their own limits they can return to normal activities such as working or exercising," he said. "Regular exercise and aerobic activity is a good thing, as long as shortness of breath and fluid build-up are under control."

For Newton, this means returning for "Dancing with the Stars -- The Tour," which starts Dec. 18.

And considering the healthy pulse of his 45 years in show business, from "The Jackie Gleason Show" to his more recent reality show conquests, it could take more than an ailing heart to put a bad beat on this Vegas legend.