NFL Star David Garrard on Battling Crohn's Disease and How He's Helping Kids With the Illness
NFL star David Garrard landed his dream job when he was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2002, but despite his football success, the quarterback, who recently signed a six-year contract extension, has experienced his share of sacks off the field.
When Garrard, 32, was just 16, he and his three siblings lost their mother, a single parent, to breast cancer.
Then, in 2004, after experiencing severe stomach and chest pains, Garrard was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, an inflammatory bowel disease that causes brutal diarrhea attacks.
But rather than let the disease get the best of him, the football player is giving back to his young fans who also suffer from Crohn's.
ParentDish spoke to Garrard, married to Mary, his college sweetheart, since 2003, and dad to 3-year-old Justin, about what motivates him to devote much of his free time to helping others. An edited version of the interview follows:
ParentDish: You recently suffered a finger injury and were forced to miss the last game. How are you feeling?
David Garrard: I am OK and on the mend. I had surgery and I now have a pin for about two and a half weeks and then four weeks of rehab. I am not going to let this hold me back and ruin the start of the new year.
PD: You have gone public with a very personal battle you have been fighting for years. Tell me about that.
DG: I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease back in 2004. At the time, I had no idea what it was. I thought you take a pill and it was no big deal. But then after my wife and I did research, we learned how serious Crohn's disease can be.
PD: What was your reaction?
DG: Once I wrapped my mind around what it was, I decided Crohn's was not going to stop me from playing football. Once I began to digest the fact I had this disease, I did start asking myself the following questions: Why has this happened to me? How do you get it? Can you get rid of it? Is there a cure for it?
PD: Has having Crohn's disease impacted your professional life?
DG: No, it hasn't. I have been in remission for a few years and haven't had any symptoms, so I am able to play without any problems. Right after my surgery, during off season, the doctors removed a foot of my intestines where the Crohn's was located. Following proper treatment of taking Remicade every eight weeks I was allowed to return for the new season.
PD: Any setbacks?
DG: No. I have been lucky in that I have never had a moment where I had to run to the restroom. I feel like I am back to my normal self.
PD: You have partnered with the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation to help children suffering from the disease.
DG: When I learned how many children suffer from Crohn's disease I decided I had to speak out more to raise awareness and prove to them we can fight this and win. When a kid feels like they have been defeated, I try to inspire them to keep working towards their dreams. If I won't let Crohn's get the best of me, then I certainly won't let it get the best of these kids.
PD: Describe your position on this team.
DG: My job is to keep them motivated and keep them happy so they can live their lives and achieve their dreams like I did mine. After I started getting all of these letters from kids who were hurting from Crohn's disease, I knew I had to teach them what I was taught as a player: Never give up.
PD: Some people might be embarrassed to talk about this disease, yet you aren't.
DG: It is a disease that talks about going to the restroom and all of these awful things coming out of your body. I can understand why a child would never want to talk about that. But someone needs to be a voice and help raise awareness for this and I realize that is my calling.
PD: What is your goal?
DG: To spread the word about Crohn's disease and educate the public about what it is. The more we teach the public about what it is, the more money we can raise to fight this disease and, hopefully, find a cure.
PD: In addition to being active with this organization, you also created the Zone for Crohn's campaign. Tell me about that.
DG: I just lost the company I was partnered with. But, prior to that, I spent three years putting on events at about five different camps in Atlanta, North Carolina, Michigan and California that are specially designed for approximately 200 kids who suffer from Crohn's disease. I am also the honorary chair for a 5-mile walk here in Jacksonville that raises money for Crohn's.
PD: You also created the David Garrard Foundation to promote breast cancer awareness and research after losing your mom to the disease.
DG: That was a devastating time for me and my family. When we lost my mother, who was a nurse at a VA hospital, it was tough. This is a cause that will always be close to my heart because my mother was an amazing woman. I will always continue to raise money in her honor.
PD: You and your three siblings were raised by a single mom. How did you all survive after she passed away?
DG: My oldest brother, Anthony -- he did a remarkable job of keeping everyone together as a family. My other brother, Quincy, was off to college and, although my sister and I were lucky to have an aunt and uncle that offered to take us in, my brother took the reins and kept us together. Before we lost our mom she taught us nothing is more important than family and being together.
PD: Having been surrounded by so much illness, how do you manage to wake up every day and smile?
DG: Never give up fighting the fight. The right attitude will get you anywhere.
PD: On the subject of family, you have a 3-year-old son, Justin.
DG: He is a bundle of energy and he is always into something because he loves to explore. He loves to help Daddy work around the house and he loves sports and loves throwing the ball around with me. Justin has given me a whole new outlook on life.
PD: Does he watch every game?
DG: Oh, yeah, and he even tells me, "Daddy, you played good" after every game.
PD: Are you worried Justin might inherit Crohn's disease?
DG: Yes, I do think about that. If he does get it, then that it is a bridge we will cross and fight hard to win.
PD: Breast cancer runs in families, too, and, according to the American Cancer Society, 1,970 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed among men and about 390 men will die from it. Do you go for checkups?
DG: No, I have not. But I do stay on top of my wife and sister to make sure they get checked on a regular basis.
PD: So, since the Jaguars aren't in the running to win the 2011 Super Bowl ring, what is your bold prediction?
DG: The New England Patriots have put together a really good team and Tom Brady is a tough guy to deal with. I think they have the upper hand right now.