Dear Dawg Pound:
Every day that I get to play the game I love is such a blessing! Sometimes you don’t appreciate how much the game means until it’s almost taken away from you. I’ll never forget trying out for the Deer Valley High School football team my freshman year. Growing up with four older brothers who played collegiate football, I had always dreamed about putting on those pads and that helmet and playing under – the Friday Night Lights, baby!
But on the first day of tryouts, my life changed forever. It was hot. We were working hard. I was sweating. I remember I was trying to catch my breath … and then it all went dark. When I woke up they transported me by ambulance to the hospital and a year later, we learned that I had a one-in-a-million birth defect. My coronary artery actually developed between my lungs. So the harder I tried to breathe, the less oxygen I was actually getting. Talk about a shock to the system for a 15-year-old kid. There were two choices – give up my dreams of playing in the NFL or undergo a risky surgery to correct the problem. I was fortunate to have positive role models in my life who challenged me to “Take A Chance and Dream Big!” The decision was obvious. I had the open-heart surgery at Oakland Children’s Hospital on February 14th and spent two months in the hospital recovering. Wow, those two months seemed like an eternity but the year and a half long recovery was even more challenging.
I’m always asked “How did you make it to the NFL?” The answer is always the same – a big heart and a relentless work ethic. While I was born with a heart defect, I didn’t use it as an excuse to give up. I used it as motivation to work even harder. I dedicated myself to my craft and my technique to earn a scholarship to Ohio University. I stayed humble, worked even harder to set myself apart to get a shot at the next level, and focused on always being a pro.
Playing in the NFL has truly provided me with a platform to help others. It is a privilege to play for the Cleveland Browns, just a couple of hours down the road from my college team. I am honored to now be that role model who can encourage others to Be A Pro and aspire to Dream Big! In 2016, I established the TJ Carrie Foundation, a Donor Advised Fund at Silicon Valley Community Foundation. Please accept my invitation to learn more about the work that we are doing and consider joining our team!
Dream Big, Play with Your Heart and Always Be A Pro!
Take A Chance,
TJ’s Heart Facts:
- Diagnosed with a coronary artery anomaly, causing TJ’s artery to constrict when his lungs expanded and decreasing oxygen circulation during physical activities
- Detected in TJ at the age of 14 (fall 2004); occurred during freshman football tryouts at Deer Valley High School in Antioch, CA
- This birth defect is described by his doctors as a one-in-a-million case
- Took over a year to diagnose the condition
- Presented with two treatment options: Avoid physical activity and opt out of high-impact sports or undergo open-heart surgery
- Transferred to De La Salle High School in Concord, CA at the end of freshman year
- Open Heart Surgery performed on February 14, 2006 (age 15) at Oakland Children’s Hospital (currently named UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland)
- Dr. Frank Hanley, pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon, Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford performed TJ’s surgery at Oakland Children’s Hospital
- Recovery: 2 months in the hospital, plus 18 months total recovery