Cards coach back after life-threatening illness
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Less than two months ago, during an offseason practice at the Arizona Cardinals’ facility, quarterbacks coach Freddie Kitchens felt two “pops” in his chest.
Then his vision turned blurry and a leg felt numb.
They were the early symptoms of an often-fatal illness called aortic dissection, and had the attack occurred at any other time, Kitchens may well not have lived.
“I was very fortunate in a lot of different ways,” he said.
Now the 38-year-old former Alabama quarterback is back at work at training camp, feeling a little tired but otherwise healthy.
“It’s a miracle,” head coach Bruce Arians said. “It really is, that he’s here and doing so well.”
Kitchens has been a Cardinals assistant since 2007, serving as tight ends coach under Ken Whisenhunt. When Whisenhunt was fired and Arians came in after last season, he kept Kitchens on the staff and shifted him to quarterbacks coach.
Those quarterbacks noticed something was wrong with their coach that June 4 and they called trainer Tom Reed onto the field. Initially, it was thought Kitchens was dehydrated. But it became clear to Reed that it might be something more, and he telephoned team doctor Wayne Kuhl.
Kuhl said Kitchens needed to get to a hospital, and he was driven to the closest one, Chandler Regional Medical Center. There, after numerous tests, doctors figured out what was wrong. The wall of the aorta had torn. It’s a condition that can kill, and the longer the wait, the more likely that would be the outcome.
With the streets clogged by rush-hour traffic, the decision was made to transfer Kitchens by helicopter to the Arizona Heart Hospital in Phoenix. In perhaps the most fortuitous of all the developments that day, the surgeon on duty at the heart hospital was Andrew Goldstein, one of the foremost authorities in the country on aortic dissection and how to fix it.
“This is kind of a special kind of deal and only special people can do it,” Kitchens said. “It’s kind of like playing quarterback in the NFL, only special people can do it.”
After a 13-minute helicopter ride, Kitchens underwent surgery for nearly nine hours. He had been told along the way how serious his condition was.
“If you look at the numbers, they’re grim,” he said, “but the most important part that happened was me getting to people that could help and that happened quick. That was the decisive factor in me being alive. That had to do with our training staff, our team doctor recognizing that there was a problem and it wasn’t dehydration, getting me to the people at Chandler Regional and them realizing they had to get me to someone else.”
The surgery repaired the problem fully. Kitchens has been told it will not recur and his recovery should be a complete one. He rested at home for several weeks and didn’t know if he’d be able to work or not.
He said he and Goldstein communicate in one way or another just about every day. The doctor decided that the best thing for his patient was to get back to doing what he loves most.
“I think really that’s the best thing that could have happened to me is get back on the field and get around people that I’m familiar with and things like that and the job that I’m familiar with, especially since that’s what I was doing whenever it happened.”
Kitchens said he’s always lived life to the fullest, so that hasn’t changed. But he has gained a new appreciation of how much he means to those around him — his family, fellow coaches, players and those he’s grown to know around the NFL.
Death had a good shot at him, he knows, and misfired.
“The facts are the worst thing that could have happened to me missed its opportunity,” he said, “because I was in the right place at the right time.”
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