An NFL Player's Battle with Crohn's
It could have sidelined NFL player David Garrard for good. But his inspiring story shows that you can overcome anything, no matter how impossible it seems.
I spent the 2002 NFL season on the bench, but I felt so close to achieving my dream, it was almost like heaven. I worked harder than I had in college, training, watching game film, peppering the veterans and the QB coach with questions. I soaked up as much knowledge of the pro game as I could.
“When I get my chance, I want to be ready,” I told Mary, who, by then, was my wife.
But then came the 2003 NFL draft. The Jags had a first-round pick and they chose Byron Leftwich, the most heralded QB to come out of college that year. Mary and I heard the news on the car radio. I almost drove off the road. “I guess they just don’t believe in me,” I said.
Mary gave me a look, kind of like Mom would have. “He still has to beat you out.”
He did. I tried my best, but Leftwich won the starting job. The job that was supposed to be mine. I was relegated to backup again. My confidence took a hit. For the first time I questioned my ability. I wondered about the dream I’d had since I was six. What if I’d gotten it wrong?
Watching from the sidelines as Leftwich led the offense, I had plenty of time to think. What I thought about, mostly, was my mother. That inner strength of hers, I could really use some of it now. I remembered how she used to tell me, With the Lord’s help, you’ll succeed.
One night toward the end of that trying season, I lay in bed and prayed. Not that I’d take over as the starter, but that I could be as strong as Mom had been. I asked for faith like hers. I woke up feeling reinvigorated. Next year—2004—would be my year. Hand in hand with the Lord, I’d find my way back to the field.
That’s why I shrugged off that bout of abdominal pain in January and stepped up my workouts. But two months later, when I reported to Jacksonville for the team’s off-season conditioning program, I still didn’t feel right. The trainer sent me to a gastroenterologist. The doctor ran a bunch of tests and took X rays. He told me I had something called Crohn’s disease.
“Just give me whatever pill I need to clear it up,” I said. I figured if I’d never heard of it, it couldn’t be that serious.
But it was. The doctor explained that Crohn’s is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of the small intestine, making it all but impossible for food to pass through. “No one knows exactly how or why you get it,” he said. He’d put me on medication to control the inflammation, but there was no cure. It was a disease I’d have to live with.
I called Mary and told her the diagnosis. By the time I got home, she’d printed out a ton of information from the internet. She looked worried. “Dave, a lot of people who have Crohn’s don’t do that well maintaining an active lifestyle.”
We’d see about that. The medication helped. I modified my diet. No more spicy food, roughage or sweets that would irritate my small intestine. Within a few weeks I felt well enough to go out to a Thai restaurant with my teammates. Big mistake. I awoke in the middle of the night vomiting. Mary found me curled on the bathroom floor, so wracked by abdominal cramps I couldn’t move.
“I’m taking you to the E.R., Dave.” She had to help me—her 250-pound NFL quarterback husband—into my clothes.
I was laid up in the hospital for four days, unable to eat a thing. They put me on IV fluids. Still I dropped 30 pounds. I felt weak, woozy. Mom kept floating in and out of my thoughts. Maybe it was because I was light-headed, but I swear, one night it felt like she was right there beside me.