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FLORHAM PARK, NJ – Vinny Curry so bad news coming. When he left the field after the New York Jets’ last minicamp training in June last year, the defensive end was contacted by team doctors and athletic coaches. Curry was immediately struck by the worried glances in their faces. After weeks of revitalizing work with his new team, everything was getting dark.
Doctors had detected a high number of platelets in his blood and they wanted him to take his blood sample again and go for an MRI – an imaging study that confirmed their suspicions. Curry’s spleen was enlarged and needed to be removed as soon as possible. Due to a previously diagnosed blood disease, it was swollen to the range of 28 to 32 centimeters, more than twice the size of the average.
“My spleen was actually getting ready to burst,” Curry recalled in an interview with ESPN. “It was one of them, ‘Are you kidding me?’ moments.”
After missing the 2021 season due to complications in the wake of his splenectomy, Curry returned to the field this week for the start of OTAs. In a moment of reflection on the first day, he took a knee, thanked, and made sure to suck everything in.
Nearly a year after last year’s health scare, which could have been life-threatening if not discovered, Curry is back and more determined than ever.
“No one loves football more than Vinny Curry,” said Jets general manager Joe Douglas. “Not one.”
Curry, who turns 34 on June 30, has played a lot of football (121 games) and has won many games over nine seasons, including a Super Bowl with the Philadelphia Eagles. He does not have to do more to stamp his career a success, but he sweats and trains out there with men who are 10 years younger than him.
“One thing about me: I do not take life for granted,” he said. “I’m happy to be here and still do what I love to do.”
Curry was born with thalassemia, a rare and inherited blood disorder that causes the body to have less hemoglobin than normal, according to the Mayo Clinic. Thalassemia can cause anemia, which can lead to fatigue. Curry said his condition falls “below the sickle cell category.” One of the symptoms is an enlarged spleen.
He always managed it, from his high school years in Neptune, New Jersey, to his college career in Marshall to the NFL.
“I’ve had this blood disease all my life,” Curry said. “I was born with it. Over time, the spleen just grew.”
The Jets’ doctors got a big catch. The spleen, especially when enlarged, can rupture with a direct blow to the abdomen. Dr. Babak Sarani, a professor of surgery at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C., said a ruptured spleen can result in “a life-threatening bleeding quite quickly.” Curry said he never allowed himself to consider the macabre what-if scenarios, even though he admitted: “It was a sick and dark time for me because I did not know what would happen and what the future would bring. “
His spleen was removed a few weeks later, in July. At the time, Curry intended to play in 2021, so he started training – too hard, as it turned out. He also stopped taking his medication – a “miscommunication”, he called it – which resulted in a blood clot.
That diagnosis, last August, ended his season because the blood-thinning drugs prescribed meant physical contact was prohibited. The curry was broken. He felt helpless and bored. Instead of burying quarterbacks, he planted a rose garden, one of many household activities he undertook to pass the time.
“A rose garden!he still said in disbelief. “Come on, man!”
Curry remained involved with the team, delivering behind-the-scenes leadership while promising to make a comeback. First, he had to get well for his wife, Daphne, and their two children of 5 and 2 years.
“I’m first and foremost a family man,” he said. “The wife reads about this at my house and thinks, ‘You could possibly die.’
Former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark experienced a similar order in 2007. Due to complications from the seal cell property, Clark underwent a splenectomy at age 28 before returning the following season and playing for another seven years. Before the operation, he weighed dangerously low 160 pounds due to the infection in his spleen. His gallbladder and part of his liver were also removed.
Clark, now an ESPN analyst, called it an “extremely, extremely serious” condition, but he said the footballer’s mentality is to get back on the field as soon as possible.
“Even though I was much younger than he is, the only thing you can think of is: If I can train, if I can walk, if I’m medically certified, then why should I not play?” said Clark in a telephone interview.
Clark said he changed his diet and exercise program, took vitamins and visited a homeopathic doctor twice a month. He did not hesitate to return to the field and said, “No one at all. To me I was like, ‘I’m fine now. They took what killed me.'” Curry said he lives “a normal life.” without medication or fear of physical contact.
Dr. Sarani, who did not treat himself to Curry, said NFL players have “a level of pain tolerance that is completely different from normal people,” adding that Curry is out of danger because enough time has passed since the surgery.
“Almost a year out, he really should be back to his old self,” he said. A splenectomy puts a person at higher risk for bacterial infections such as pneumonia and meningitis, Sarani said, why these patients are vaccinated before surgery.
The third-oldest player on the team, behind quarterback Joe Flacco, 37, and kicker Greg Zuerlein, 34, Curry, who has 32.5 layoffs from his career, possesses an enthusiasm that believes in his age. Douglas, whose front office career crossed Curry’s in Philadelphia, said the 6-foot-3, 275-pound lineman plays with the energy of a rookie.
“You can feel it falling off him when he’s on the field,” Douglas said.
Curry said he returned for two reasons: validation for his hard work and a strong desire to repay a debt to the organization. Although it was not his fault, he hated that he was not able to play last season. Call it competitive guilt.
“Now, by the grace of God, I’m better off than ever,” he said. “My body took a year off from football, but I never stopped training. So it’s like I’m in tip-top shape and I’m ready to go. I’m already a hyper, energetic guy, but I get to work even more hyper every day. “