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Sepsis Survivor Alex Smith Returns to NFL After Serious Injury

August 19, 2020

As sports leagues and athletes struggle with the choices they have to make in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, one athlete, NFLer Alex Smith, has been cleared to return to play. Two years ago, Smith almost lost his right leg after developing sepsis following a horrific injury on the field.

On November 18, 2018, the Washington Football Team was in the third quarter of a game against the Houston Texans when Smith sustained a compound, spiral fracture of his lower leg. He underwent surgery to stabilize the leg with plates and screws. Because Smith had sustained a compound fracture, where bone pierces the skin, the surgeons knew that infection was a risk, but they were confident that Smith would heal, although it would take time.

Two-and-a-half days after the initial injury, Smith was in the fight of his life. Despite receiving antibiotics, he contracted an infection and this triggered sepsis. Blisters formed on his leg and the skin was turning black. His doctors took him back to surgery to remove as much infected tissue as they could. They also determined that the infection was necrotizing fasciitis.

Two days later, the 34-year-old Smith underwent more surgery, and then more after that. Finally, the surgeons suggested amputating his leg – to save Smith’s life. After much discussion, Smith and the team decided on another approach, transferring muscle from another part of his body to his injured leg. The surgery worked, but there was a long road ahead for Smith’s recovery. He had undergone 17 surgeries. All that was left was to see if the now 36-year-old could play again.

This past Sunday, Smith was taken off the “physically unable to perform” list and he resumed practice; on Tuesday, he practiced with full pads. It’s not known if Smith will be able to play at his former level or if his injury will hold him back, but the team’s head coach, Ron Rivera, is willing to give him a try. “It’s a little bit more difficult with Alex because of the specific movements we’ve got to continue to watch and see as he continues to get stronger and stronger,” Rivera said in an article published by Sports Illustrated. “The only way he’s going to know is by doing all of the drills, and that’s one of the things that [Head Athletic Trainer] Ryan Vermillion and his staff have been working with Alex on, is getting him the opportunity to do all the specific quarterback drills.”

The coaches will watch Smith’s progress before making any decisions. According to the SI article, there are concerns about Smith’s ability to take contact on the field, but time will tell what role he will be able to play for his team.

Smith survived sepsis, something that each year, over a quarter of a million people in the United States don’t. Even more, he worked hard to get back to his high performance level. “Selfishly, I’m even doing this for [my kids] as crazy as that sounds. I know if I can go out there and play quarterback, I can do anything else in life,” he said in an interview with CBS Sports. “ We all face adversity in life and it comes in different forms. Was I going to talk about it or was I going to be about it? For me, that’s what it is.”

 

To learn more about sepsis, click here.

If you have any signs of sepsis, go to your local emergency room or call 911, and say that you are concerned about sepsis.