There haven’t been many silver linings to find during the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically in the football world. Players have opted out of multi-million dollar contracts for their own safety, young players have been cut before getting a chance to prove themselves on the field, and teams have been prevented from gathering or practicing for a full summer.
The ultra-vigilance, to many, is necessary but a nuisance. For Cameron Smith, it was a lifesaver.
The Minnesota Vikings linebacker tested positive for COVID-19 upon arriving at the team facility. On the surface, it was a downer for a player that had been eager to find a more permanent role in the Vikings’ linebacking corps. In reality, it was a blessing in disguise. The positive test was followed by three to four negative tests — indicating that the initial test may have been a false positive. Nonetheless, Smith underwent a physical and an EKG that revealed a possible complication with his heart. Then another series of tests, including an echocardiogram. Then the diagnosis: Smith was dealing with something even more serious than COVID-19
“The way it looks right now, I wouldn’t have ever known about this — or as soon as I do now — without getting tested for COVID and testing positive in that timeframe,” Smith told reporters Friday. “It does feel like it’s a blessing, in a way, that I did test positive, and the further tests to make sure I was all right did save my life.
“I’m pretty excited to see what this change is going to feel like and actually get a properly functioning heart back in my body.”
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Earlier this week I found out I need open heart surgery to fix a bicuspid aortic valve that I was born with. Although this will unfortunately end my 2020 season, it is really a blessing that we found this as my heart is severely enlarged and wouldn’t have lasted much longer. I found this out after I tested positive for COVID and had to have further testing done as protocol. The Lord works in mysterious ways, but I could really feel him on this one!🙏🏻 There is a surgery that will allow me to continue to play football as soon as I am healed and cleared and I didn’t think twice about going with that one. By no means am I ready to be done playing football, there is still so much more I want to accomplish on the field. Im going to attack this like everything else I have in life. Already looking forward to the comeback! #SKOL
Smith will have open heart surgery in Philadelphia on Aug. 24 to fix a bicuspid aortic valve that, unbeknownst to Smith, has been affecting his cardiovascular health.
“I’m starting to realize that maybe normal to me isn’t exactly normal,” Smith said. “[After the surgery] the shortness of breath that I may have experienced in the past should be decreased or essentially not there at all. My heart rate will be down a lot more. I haven’t experienced it yet, but I assume the blood flow is supposed to be more natural and more effective than what it is right now because of how much blood my heart is producing but is not yet getting to the rest of my body.”
There is reason to believe that Smith will be good as new after three months of healing, giving him an opportunity to play football once again. But that optimism doesn’t fully mask the anxiety he’ll feel in the lead-up to a surgery that nobody wants to face.
“The news is very alarming, to hear ‘open heart surgery,'” Smith said. “My head just instantly started rushing, and I just didn’t know what the next plan was. It was just a lot. It was very overwhelming. But after I got the news, talked to the doctor, I drove back to the facility, and I was in my car for 30 minutes — no sound in the car, just thinking and kind of learning what the next step was.”
But conversations with trainer Eric Sugarman and other recipients of the surgery have helped put Smith’s mind at ease. He also has football to keep him distracted. The 23-year-old was present at Friday’s practice and plans to be around the team as much as possible in 2020. Smith was likely in line to be a backup linebacker and special teamer on this year’s squad, but there will be opportunities in 2021, as well, with Eric Wilson and Ben Gedeon entering the final year of their contracts.
“Cam is a great kid, it’s disappointing for him,” said head coach Mike Zimmer. “Honestly it’s probably a blessing that this happened. He’ll live a normal life, and there’s a possibility he can play football. He’s really excited about it. He’s been out there every day, he watches and helps coach the guys. He wants to be here the whole year, whether it’s helping break down film or helping guys do anything. He just wants to be around, and that’s why he’ll be a success with this too.”