NFL player trades pads for short coat after family medical crisis
For a football player, the phrase “life after football” is full of foreboding. It is almost synonymous with death. Most players have a hard time imagining their lives after they leave the game. I did too until my future calling found me late one night in an intensive care unit.
In 2005, I was finishing my college football career with The Ohio State University. I envisioned becoming a career professional football player like many of my heroes. During the draft, I waited anxiously to learn which team I was going to play for.
Then something unexpected happened: I wasn’t chosen. I felt crushed. I didn’t know what I would do if I couldn’t play. I had flirted with medicine in my undergrad course work, but I didn’t have a solid nonfootball career plan.
Then the phone rang, and I was offered a tryout with the Cleveland Browns. With tremendous hard work and dedication, I earned a spot on the team. But my brush with career uncertainty made me think hard about my future.
I played with the Browns for three seasons, then with the Atlanta Falcons for one. As a lifelong fan, I was ecstatic to finally run on the same fields as Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Brett Favre, whom I grew up watching on TV. I even played against Orlando Pace, who was one of my favorite Buckeyes when I was a kid.
When I wasn’t playing or practicing, I spent as much time as possible with my wife and family, who kept me grounded. One day while I was playing for Atlanta, I came home from practice to find my wife glowing with excitement. She showed me the test result that revealed I was going to be a father. We soon learned that we were getting a two-for-one special: twins.
Shortly after receiving the exciting news, our lives took an unexpected turn. We discovered that one of the twins had ruptured his amniotic sac, and we were told there was almost no chance he would survive. Months later, however, my wife was still carrying both babies. She eventually went into labor and delivered, at 26 weeks gestation, two little, fragile miracles.
My wife and I were constantly in the neonatal intensive care unit, watching our children and praying for their survival. In those moments, I could not even think of playing football—my focus shifted entirely to the health of my children.
I demanded that the doctors and nurses explain the mechanics and reasoning behind every treatment they ordered. I became so involved with my children’s care that I was invited to accompany the doctors when they were rounding on my children. They taught me to read the progress note and why they chose certain medications. When a nurse handed me a stethoscope to listen to my children’s hearts and lungs, the thought crossed my mind that I may have found my new calling.
Late one night when my wife and I were getting ready to leave the hospital, one of my children’s physicians, who was also a close family friend, sat down with me.
“What are you planning to do after football?” he asked.
“I have some ideas,” I told him, “but I’m not really sure yet.”
“Have you ever thought about going to medical school?” the doctor asked. He and the other physicians had noticed my relentless passion for information about my children’s care, and they thought a career in medicine would be a good fit.
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The physician was right. Through this experience, I had rediscovered my long-lost interest in medicine. I knew instantly that I wanted to pursue it.
On the elevator that night, I turned to my wife.
“I think I’m going to quit football and go to medical school,” I said. We discussed it more, and the next thing I knew, I was signing up for prereqs. I started my medical career at the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine in Athens in 2011.
Going to med school and playing in the NFL have more in common than you would think. The two pursuits are both demanding, though one mentally and the other physically. Both rely on teamwork for success. Both require extraordinary dedication. And above-and-beyond performance is expected of both NFL players and physicians.
When I was with the NFL, I didn’t know if I would ever find a career that was as exciting or as satisfying to me, but I’ve been surprised by how much I enjoy medical school. I like working with patients most of all. I relish meeting them, hearing their stories and helping them get better.
I’ll never forget the great work the physicians and nurses did for my children when they were in the NICU. Their devotion to helping them heal changed my life in more ways than one. In my life after football, I hope to have the same profound impact on my own patients one day.
Simon Fraser, OMS III, attends the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine in Athens.