I love sports, it’s my favorite thing in the world. Part of the reason that I love sports is due the people that are involved. Not only do they serve as public figures but they can also serves as role models. Whether it be from community work or things that they have overcome in their lives, professional athletes can have a huge impact on the average guy. Today we are focusing on the athletes who made it to the show and were able to overcome a rare and very dangerous disease.
The disease were focusing on today is Crohn’s Disease. The technical definition for Crohn’s Disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that may affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract from mouth to anus. Basically, it’s when people are diagnosed with a diseased colon. This causes extreme diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, fevers, and nausea. While there are ways to treat Crohn’s and put it into remission, there is no cure for it. In America alone, about 1.6 million people have Crohn’s Disease. That means that only 0.005% of Americans have Crohn’s Disease. Amazingly though, 5 of those 0.005% are either current or retired professional athletes. Let’s meet them.
Now there are more athletes out there that have Crohn’s but I am going to focus on these 5 today. The 5 athletes are Larry Nance Jr., Jake Diekman, David Garrard, Matt Light, and Seantrel Henderson. Starting with the most well-known athlete, we have Larry Nance Jr (Top). He is the 24 year old backup power forward on the Los Angeles Lakers who is known for his high flying dunks. He of course is also the son of former NBA All-Star Larry Nance; and he has Crohn’s Disease. He has had it since he was 16 but now has it under control. He takes a drug called Remicade which he’ll get infused every 7 ½ weeks. Remicade is a type of steroid that treats Crohn’s and Nance Jr. has said that it actually helped him with a growth spurt. Nance Jr. has also made it a priority to see people in the hospital with Crohn’s Disease.
Next up we have 30 year old Jake Diekman (Gut It Out shirt). Diekman is a left handed relief pitcher for the Texas Rangers. He has had Colitis (a cousin of Crohn’s) since he was 11 years old. During the past few years, Diekman has come into his own as a middle reliever but also had a ton of flare-ups. So in January, he decided to get a colostomy bag to remove his colon and stop his flair ups. By getting a colostomy bag, you can only go to the bathroom in a bag and nothing is active downstairs. Diekman did get it reversed a few months ago and be back on the mound for the Rangers very soon. Diekman is very involved with the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation (CCF) and even raised $20,000 dollars for the foundation by creating and selling these “Gut It Out” t-shirts you see above.
The final 3 athletes we will be talking today are all NFL players; 2 of which are retired. The two recently retired players are quarterback David Garrard (above) and offensive tackle Matt Light. Garrard was a Pro Bowl quarterback for the Jacksonville Jaguars as he played 9 seasons in the league. In 2004, he was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease and had 12 inches of his intestines removed. But remarkably, he was able to play that season and continued to play for another 7 seasons. Then we have Matt Light, who is well known in the Boston area. Light played for the New England Patriots for 11 seasons and won 3 Super Bowls with the team. He was diagnosed in 2001 and according to him, faced some real dark times. At one point, he went from 315 pounds to 260 pounds (loss of 55 pounds). But he was able to persevere and play another decade in the league. Finally, we have the case of Seantrel Henderson. He currently is a Buffalo Bills offensive tackle and has an interesting case to say the least. In his Crohn’s story, he had his small and large intestines removed and also had to wear a bag for 4 month. But then he was suspended 10 games for violating the league’s drug policy for smoking weed. However, the reason for this is because he was treating his Crohn’s with the weed. This something that is quite common for people with Crohn’s. Medical marijuana has been prescribed to Crohn’s patients by doctors in the past. Hopefully the NFL and other leagues wise up to medical marijuana because in my opinion, Henderson did nothing wrong.
Now here’s the question, why am I talking about athletes with Crohn’s Disease? Well, because I have Crohn’s. I was diagnosed 5 and a half years ago and it’s been a rough road. Like Matt Light, I lost about 35 pounds; twice. Like Seantrel Henderson and David Garrard, I had multiple surgeries to remove my intestines. Like Larry Nance Jr., I took Remicade to treat my Crohn’s. Like Jake Diekman, I currently have a colostomy bag. In fact, today is the one year anniversary of when I had my surgery to get my colostomy bag. Throughout my 5+ years with Crohn’s, I have had at least 10 surgeries and had probably spent at least a 60 days total in the hospital from all my visits. I was at a low point and I never thought I would get better. But these athletes made it to the show despite Crohn’s and that gave me hope. And day by day, I got better. And even though I’m not 100% recovered yet, I have my life back again. I’m happy and I’m optimistic about the future and having role models like these 5 athletes helped me come back. I’m forever grateful for that.
Written By: Steven Santoro (SVS_1993)
For more on Crohn’s Disease and these athletes’ stories, click the links below.