Vikings linebacker Cameron Smith finds himself in the infinitesimally small fraternity of people who are thanking their lucky stars that Mother Earth is in the grips of an ornery pandemic.
“It’s an interesting feeling,” he said Friday.
Without what’s believed to have been a false-positive test for COVID-19 last week, Smith never would have known that he needed open-heart surgery to repair a bicuspid aortic valve defect he’s had since birth. And “with a severely enlarged heart,” Smith understands, “it wouldn’t have lasted much longer” playing football.
“It did save my life,” he said. “It’s a blessing in disguise.”
The second-year linebacker has learned a lot about his body the past two weeks. In particular, he said, he’s started to “realize that normal to me isn’t exactly normal.”
The shortness of breath. The fatigue. The lack of oxygen. None of it normal for a 23-year-old professional athlete.
“I don’t feel any different right now,” he said. “But I’m pretty excited to see what this change is going to feel like when I actually get a properly functioning heart.”
Smith will have surgery in Philadelphia on Aug. 24.
Until then, he’s at TCO Performance Center trying to help while making sure he doesn’t raise his heart rate.
“Being around this team and a lot of my close friends on this team, that is a huge part of the healing process,” he said. “So that is 100 percent the plan to stay around the team.”
Asked if he feels safe being around this many people this close to open-heart surgery, Smith said: “Absolutely. This is where I want to be.”
Smith thanked the medical staff and head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman for how they handled his first COVID-19 test. Smith isn’t sure if the test was a false-positive or contained lingering results of him having had COVID-19 earlier.
Three to four follow-up tests were negative, he said. The Vikings played it safe and ordered a full physical with an EKG. When that didn’t look right, they ordered an MRI.
“And then it went from there,” Smith said. “A good week and a half later, I knew.
“I was very shocked. The news is alarming. To hear open-heart surgery, my head instantly started rushing.”
Smith said he drove to TCO Performance Center and spent 30 minutes in his car alone with his thoughts before entering the building and talking to Sugarman.
The conversation changed from the negative to the blessing Smith had just received.
“It’s such a great thing that we found it,” he said.
According to Smith, doctors say “100%” that he can resume his NFL career. He’ll need three months after surgery before he’ll feel 100% healthy and ready to resume heavy lifting.
“I’ll be fixed,” he said. “I’ll be better, and I’ll be in a more healthy state than I have been for the last 23 years.”