The remarkable recovery of D.J. Hayden

University of Houston cornerback D.J. Hayden was discharged from Memorial Hermann Hospital November 12, just six days after he collided with one of his teammates in practice. His injury is newsworthy because it could have – and maybe should have – killed him.

Hayden tore his inferior vena cava, the large vein that delivers blood from the lower half of the body to the heart. He was rushed by ambulance to the hospital and underwent emergency surgery to repair the torn vessel.

Coach Tony Levine told the Houston Chronicle that the injury occurred when both Hayden and a teammate broke for the ball and collided. “It was a freak accident,” Levine said. “It was as unfortunate of a situation on a play that I have ever been a part of. It’s something you rarely see in practice and playing football.”

Such an injury is rare not only in football, but in all sports. Injuries to the inferior vena cava typically result from motor vehicle accidents or penetrating injuries, like gunshot wounds. According to University of Houston team physician Dr. Walter Lowe, the injury is 95 percent fatal in the field.

“Looking at the whole course of events and the severity of the injury, D.J. has progressed remarkably well and is out a lot sooner than expected. He’s got a lot of healing left to do as the procedure to repair the inferior vena cava is much like a heart transplant. The sternum should take around three months to heal and D.J. is expected to be able to resume normal activities without contact in three-to-four months,” Lowe explained in the school’s press release.

Hayden himself hasn’t discussed his injury publicly, but his mother realizes that her son could have quickly bled to death. In an interview with Fox 26 in Houston, Tori Hayden thanked the medical personnel involved at all levels who acted quickly to save his life.

“I’m thankful for (UH head athletics trainer) Mike O’Shea and his team of trainers. I’m thankful for the EMS. I’m thankful for the trauma team here at Memorial Hermann and I’m just so thankful he is just still here with me.”

The Dr. David Geier ShowD.J. Hayden’s inferior vena cava injury and recovery: That’s Gotta Hurt segment from Episode 65 of The Dr. David Geier Show.

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Dr. Lowe believes Hayden will need a full year to recover. But just days after her son’s release from the hospital, Tori Hayden says that she expects her son to want to return to the sport that nearly took his life. “Me as a mother I really don’t want him to go back out there, but I know my son. He’s a fighter and I know he’s going to overcome this.

D.J. Hayden suffered one of the most unusual injuries I’ve ever heard of in sports. I would argue that whether or not he ever returns to football is not important at this point. It is truly remarkable that he is alive at all.

Note: The following post appears as my sports medicine column in the November 30, 2012 issue of The Post and Courier.

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