NFL Career Ending Injuries (Warning)
‘Unbearable Pain’ Almost Ended His Major League Career
First baseman Rico Brogna was about to make it to the majors when he was knocked backwards by ankylosing spondylitis.
By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
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Sanjay Gupta, MD, Everyday Health:When it comes to great memories, former major league ballplayer Rico Brogna has one of the all-time greatest.
Rico Brogna, Former MLB First Baseman:They started, “Rico, Rico…”
Sanjay Gupta:August 13, 2000. He hit a walk-off grand slam at Boston’s legendary Fenway Park.
Rico Brogna:The ground was shaking when I was going around first base, and I hit it. The ground was shaking at Fenway.
Sanjay Gupta:So that means you hit the ball, and literally everybody walks off the field because you just won this thing.
Rico Brogna:Yeah, it’s over.
Sanjay Gupta:That’s a great moment!
Rico Brogna:Oh, my gosh, yeah.
Sanjay Gupta:But Brogna’s career went from high to low in less than a year.
A year later you’re retired.
Rico Brogna: Yep.
Sanjay Gupta:Why did you retire?
Rico Brogna:I couldn’t swing because my hips and legs wouldn’t move. I’d have too much pain.
Sanjay Gupta:The reason was ankylosing spondylitis, a form of arthritis that strikes mostly young men. It was plaguing this talented athlete long before he got the diagnosis.
Rico Brogna:I did, looking back, have a lot of juvenile symptoms of my condition. They just didn’t know what I had at the time. And I, even then, stubbornly pushed through the pain until some of it was unbearable.
Sanjay Gupta:At what age did you start playing sports?
Rico Brogna:Ever since I can remember. It’s all I ever can remember myself doing, wanting to do.
Sanjay Gupta:Did you have to work really hard at sports?
Rico Brogna:No, I wasn’t working hard. It just came easily.
Sanjay Gupta:It just came easily? Naturally talented?
Rico Brogna:With humility. I mean, honestly, I am not saying that in any kind of boastful way. Except that I now know how hard I did not work — or how little I worked — because of what happened with me in my professional career, and my body, and my life.
Sanjay Gupta:What happened was that the ankylosing spondylitis knocked him backwards just as he just as his career was taking off. He was about to break into the major leagues…
Rico Brogna:And I get — I can’t bend over and grab the shampoo in the shower. And I can’t go down and grab a ground ball with my back hand, two steps to my left. It is like someone’s stabbing me in one of my hips with a knife. And honestly, I stunk. I could no longer play baseball. I was a strike out. I was going to make an error. They demoted me to double-A. It was affecting my life, my career. Time out.
Sanjay Gupta:Athletes have pain, right? You’re training. How did you know that this was actually something else?
Rico Brogna:It’s a great point because part of being an athlete, you have to learn how to play with pain. It’s inevitable. But I got to the point where I literally couldn’t move. Someone had to help put on my socks, my shoes. And that was some humble pie right there. I mean that was a big piece of humble pie.
Sanjay Gupta:In part two of my conversation with Rico Brogna: How he put his career back on track, thanks to a correct diagnosis.
I’m noticing right now even in your right eye. Is that some iritis?
Rico Brogna:It is, and that’s how they diagnosed me with AS, what you just did.
Sanjay Gupta:With Everyday Health, I’m Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Be well.
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