FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – Mitch White’s medications fill a counter top. His supplements are stashed in the cupboards. There are bags of green powder in the freezer. It tastes terrible he said, but it just might make him feel better. His wife laughs at the thousands of dollars he says he could spend on the stuff. It’s the dietary regimen of a man saving his health. But White is doing it in hopes of saving the person he used to be.
The former National Football League tackle who used to spend hours on the practice field, now considers it a good day if he can spend a few hours out in the yard.
At 34, he appears healthy, but balks at the bright sunlight that comes through when he opens the front door of his home in Tarrant County. The house is fairly dark, because he’s trying to stave off a migraine that could come on at any time. Depression, mood swings and vomiting are all on the list of risks if he tries to do too much.
Injuries were always a routine part of football life for White. New Orleans drafted him out of Oregon State in 2001. The 310 pound lineman bounced between the roster and the practice squad. For the first four years of his career, leg injuries, and a battle with MRSA infections kept him from playing a single down on Sunday. In 2005, he requested a move to NFL Europe in an attempt to knock off the rust, and revive his career. Instead, one debilitating hit ended it.
He doesn’t really remember the moment, or much from the next three days following it, but he’s seen the video of the linebacker who hit him. His arm involuntarily whipped into the air he said, like a bull rider who is knocked out during a ride.
“I just remember everything going black,” he said. “I woke up and I was face down in the grass.”
He struggled to get up, but made it off the field. No trainers came up to him that he remembers. A few plays later he was back on the field. It was just a practice.
“Just thought it was something you play through, it just gets better,” he said. “That’s what they told me. Little concussion. You’ll be back in a week, at the most.”
He thought with some rehab it might be like any other injury. He would lie in training rooms with a towel over his face, while other players were working injured legs and arms. There was a point, he realized it was more than a headache.
“That’s when you get extremely depressed and things happen completely out of your control. The suicidal thoughts that would pop into my head. I was fighting it. I would never think of myself as suicidal and wanting to kill myself but it kept popping into my head. I had no control over it.”
Seven years later, White is one of thousands of players suing the NFL over concussions. His first efforts at collecting disability from the NFL were met with denials. He was able to get Social Security before he had anything from his former employer. The league eventually agreed to monthly payments. It’s still a battle, White said, to pay for medication and doctors.
He’s turned to alternative treatments, like that green powder in the freezer, in the search for something that might return him to a normal life. There have been hyperbaric chambers, flotation therapy, even Botox. It helps ease the tension of a furrowed brow brought on by a headache. Over time, it may do more he said. The younger look most people are looking for from the treatment is just a bonus side effect for him.
He’s tried to go back to work, but couldn’t get through the day. His wife Jennifer works as a nurse. They have family nearby to help with their two daughters. They know daddy is sick, and still can’t help but want to see him when he disappears into his room during a migraine.
“It’s rough,” Jennifer said. “Some days I get frustrated and it gets really tough. When he feels good, he wants to do stuff. So he does too much or overdoes it. Then he’s in the bathroom vomiting.”
She doesn’t think the general public understands what her husband went through in his playing days, or is going through now.
“Yeah, they expect to get hurt. Your shoulder hurt, your knee hurt. That kind of pain is different than having suicidal thoughts, depression, potentially losing your mind, you know?”
They also know it could get worse. White already doesn’t leave the house without a GPS. He doesn’t think he could make it home from the doctor’s office without getting lost. They know studies show dementia, Alzheimer’s and ALS may be in his future. He thinks it’s inevitable.
They have no hesitation though about continuing to live life, and finding ways to improve it. In December, they’ll welcome a son. They already both agreed, he can play football if he wants to.
“It’s part of God’s plan somehow,” White said. “There’s some kind of purpose in here for me. Just kind of getting to it.”
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