DJ Haden was the talk of the 2013 NFL Draft. It’s amazing how ESPN, NFL Network, and countless other media sites highlighted the Houston Cougar after Oakland Raiders drafted him 12th overall. But it was the talk that almost wasn’t.
In fact, DJ Haden should be dead.
During a normal, November practice this past season, DJ jumped to break up a pass when his teammate’s knee hit him in the chest. Typical football play. Except this play almost killed DJ. At first coaches stared at the young man, grasping at his chest on the ground. Like anyone, they assumed he’d had the wind knocked out of his lungs. Instead he’d torn the largest vein in the human body. The inferior vena cava (IVC) brings blood from the lower body back to the heart. The tear meant this was a life-threatening situation.
9-1-1 was called and DJ was taken to the hospital. Surgeons repaired the tear in an injury with a “95% fatality rate.” Looking back at the situation, if any number of decisions had differed in the slightest or anyone had delayed DJ’s trip to the trauma center, this young man would’ve died on the spot. Lying in the hospital bed, football was the last thing on everyone’s mind – except DJ. His entire outlook on life had changed. Everything – friends, family, God – were at the forefront. But he wasn’t about to let football go just yet.
He spent the next three months rehabbing after emergency heart surgery, slowly building back his strength and weight, from 165 pounds post-surgery up to his playing weight of 190. He blew scouts away with a 4.33-second 40-yard dash at his Houston Pro Day in March and teams had to do a double take. The young man who lied on an operating table just four months ago was now back to his elite football playing level. The Oakland Raiders drafted him one month after that.