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NFL Quarterback and Sepsis Survivor, Alex Smith, on 60 Minutes

January 18, 2021

Alex Smith, quarterback for the National Football League’s Washington Football team, was seriously injured in November 2018. During a game against the Houston Texans, Smith was sacked and sustained a compound spiral fracture to his tibia (lower leg) – a severe break. On Sunday, January 17, 2021, Smith sat down with the television news program 60 Minutes, to discuss his injury, his rehabilitation, and his comeback.

Smith’s Serious Injury

A compound fracture is one where the edge of the broken bone breaks through the skin. A spiral fracture is exactly what it sounds like. The bone is broken in a spiral fashion. Both the spiral fracture and the compound fracture are serious alone – combined they are even more so.

Because a compound fracture causes a break in the skin, bacteria can enter, causing an infection. Smith underwent initial surgery to fix his broken bone and clean up the site. He left the operating room with three plates and 28 screws and pins holding his tibia together. However, not long after the surgery, Smith developed an infection, necrotizing fasciitis. This then led to sepsis. The doctors don’t know for sure, but they believe the bacteria came from the football field, as Smith was on the ground, waiting for medical help.

The surgeons wanted Smith to agree to amputating his leg because the injury and infection were so severe. He was adamant that they do what they can to save his leg.

Many Surgeries, Long Rehab

Smith went on to have 17 surgeries on his leg. In addition, he had to wear a “cage”, called an external fixator, on his leg for several months. This device is designed to ensure the bones and all the hardware used to hold the bones together don’t move and have a chance to mend together.

Because his injury was so severe, his surgeon reached out to The Center for the Intrepid, in San Antonio, Texas, where the staff have seen many combat soldiers with similar injuries. With special permission, Smith traveled to the center for care.

There, he learned how to walk again and even more – how to run again. Within two years, Smith had done so much rehabilitation work that he was ready to try to play football again. And he did. It took five games before the coach would put Smith back into play. Many watched with bated breath as he was sacked – and then he got up again.

Words from Elizabeth Smith

Smith’s wife, Elizabeth, appeared on the program as well. Her support for her husband’s dream was strong, but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t scared for him. “I understand people’s apprehension. I have the same apprehensions,” she said in the interview. “But I think it’s bigger than football. That’s what I tell people. It’s not about the game. It’s about what happened and getting back on your feet and dusting yourself off, no matter what the obstacle is.”