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Coach Sure Has Heart

No matter what happens when the Atlanta Falcons and Denver Broncos face off in Sunday's Super Bowl, there has already been an amazing comeback that people will be talking about for years.

Less than seven weeks after open-heart bypass surgery, Falcons Coach Dan Reeves will be on the sidelines leading his team into the championship game, a remarkable recovery by any standard.

"If I can handle that, I think I can handle anything," Reeves said after qualifying for the Super Bowl. "When you think about it, it's a miracle. I was going through open heart surgery."

Reeves is one of more than 350,000 Americans who have bypass surgery every year. The procedure has certainly become more routine over the last 15 years.

But can all patients expect to recover as quickly as he did?

Reeves is about 10 years younger than the average bypass patient, and was in generally good health leading up to his procedure. CBS News Medical Correspondent Dr. Emily Senay said on CBS This Morning that those factors probably contributed to his quick recovery.

"[Reeves] had chest pains, but he never suffered a heart attack," she said. "So the recovery isn't so unexpected for someone like him. Older people, people with underlying medical conditions, might not be able to jump up and go coach the Super Bowl quite so easily."

Instead of being an exception, the Reeves case highlights how far heart surgery has come in the past three decades. In fact, open-heart surgery has almost become routine. More than 350,000 Americans have bypass surgery each year.

In 1970, a patient undergoing bypass surgery could have expected to spend between 10 and 14 days in the hospital. Today, the length of that hospital stay has been cut to just five days.

Still, heart patients are typically told to avoid stress after their surgery, and Coach Reeves is about to face the ultimate "stress test" when he leads his Falcons against the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos. Should Reeves be concerned?

"There is one theory that people who are sort of practiced at stress do a little bit better with some stressful situations in their recovery," Senay said. "I don't think he's in any danger of anything serious happening during the Super Bowl."