When D.J. Hayden collapsed to the practice turf on Nov. 6, he thought the wind in his chest was simply knocked out. But then the Houston Cougars senior cornerback began to feel cold. Then he felt tired.
"I'm looking around and I'm getting real sleepy," Hayden said during his meeting with the media at the NFL Combine on Sunday. "My left eye goes pitch black. I can't see out of it. I can see a little bit out of my left eye. I'm praying, 'Lord, help me get out of this one.'"
Houston's team doctor recognized the severity of the issue, sending Hayden to the hospital. Few, however, could have guessed just how dangerous and rare Hayden's condition was until he arrived.
After tests revealed blood building up in his abdomen, doctors cut through Hayden's sternum -- Hayden gave the go-ahead by saying, "OK, just don't mess my abs up" -- when they discovered his torn inferior vena cava, a main highway for blood traveling between the heart and lower body.
"They just stitched the vein up where it was torn," Hayden said. "They said it was like sewing wet tissue paper. I don't know how he did it, but he did it."
The tear, described to Hayden by doctors as a "freak accident" usually seen in high-speed car crashes, is typically fatal 95 percent of the time due to extreme loss of blood. Hayden and a teammate crashed into one another during a passing drill.
"They threw the ball my way. Me and the safety ran into each other. His knee hit me in my chest," Hayden said. "The ball was more on my side. I was running. I wasn't going to jump, but he jumped and then he hit me and I went back and he went forward."
With the vein nearly completely healed, Hayden is working out as his sternum approaches full strength. He didn't participate at the combine, though he said about 20 NFL teams spoke with him there. Hayden's pro day is set for March 18, where he said he will do "everything."
Dan Pompei of the National Football Post says Hayden "intrigues" NFL teams assuming his health proves to be in the clear. Hayden says his new lease on life has changed his perspective on everything, making him prepare even harder to make up for lost time. Perhaps, he admits, he's pushing too hard, as his trainers instructed him to take it slow for the time being.
After a scare like that, though, Hayden is happy to be here regardless, training for the next step in his football career.
"Him (trainer Danny Arnold) telling me I have to slow it down, I was just anxious to break a sweat," Hayden said. "The first sweat I broke, I almost broke down and cried because I was just thankful I'm doing what I was doing."
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