By Teresa Varley
Football players are used to injuries being a part of the game, but not in his wildest dreams did safety Ryan Clark think the 2007 season would end the way that it did for him.
Clark suffered an inflamed spleen following the Steelers-Broncos game in Denver, the result of a pre-existing blood condition where the high mountain altitude combined with dehydration caused the inflammation.
The normally upbeat, fun-loving Clark was a far cry from what everyone was used to. He would walk through the hallways at the team's practice facility looking thin and withdrawn. He was quiet, losing weight and lacked the energy that he always had.
"Some days I didn't know if I was going to make it," said Clark. "I would be down about it, just thinking how hard it would be to come back and how hard I worked to get into that shape for the season. What it took six or seven months to gain I lost in two weeks.
"It's amazing. It lets you know it's out of your hands. It's up to God. What's going to be is going to be. It's a long way to go. To be able to get up in the morning and eat, and run around with the kids, it's a blessing. I'm doing well."
He was placed on injured reserve after he had surgery to remove the spleen, and that was followed weeks later by surgery to remove his gallbladder.
"They wanted to take the gallbladder out with the first surgery, but they weren't able to," said Clark, who has the sickle cell gene. "I was having problems still with what I was eating and having pain, and it turned out I had gall stones."
The physical effects were tough on Clark, but it was more than just that. The emotional effects were just as trying and wore on him as time went on.
"The emotion comes a long way after," said Clark. "Before the surgery I never thought it was over because the doctor kept telling me it wasn't. Once I had the surgery I knew I was done for the year, but the doctors were optimistic telling me I would be back.
"You get angry. The first emotion was that you did all of this work to get to this point and it's gone in a week. You get angry about that. Once you get really sick you stop thinking about football. You start just thinking about your family. I got over the football thing until I was healthy enough to move around and go to games. I just knew I had to be here for family, my wife and kids."
Clark lost between 25 and 30 pounds during the ordeal, dropping 10 pounds in the first week and dipping down to about 175 pounds. He is putting the weight back on now, up to around 190, and has a unique way of measuring how far he has come.
"What I would do is at night when everyone was sleeping I would try on one of my game day suits," said Clark. "At first it was horrible. My pants would hardly stay on. I would do it once a week and as time went on they started to feel better. They don't fit perfect yet, but at least I can keep them up now. It was weird at first."
Check the next issue of Steelers Digest for more on Clark's progress.