While it would generally be minor news if a first-round player was unable to participate in preseason workouts due to a minor injury, the recent reports from the Bay Area that Oakland Raiders cornerback D.J. Hayden was recently hospitalized with an abdominal injury will send up many more red flags than usual. And that's precisely because Hayden's health history is so unusual.
Last November, Hayden was hit in a team practice for the University of Houston -- nothing unusual there -- but the contact caused Hayden to suffer a tear in his vena cava, the primary vein leading to his heart. Thus, the news that Hayden had to be hospitalized last week with what was nebulously termed "an abdominal issue" had people wondering if this was related to Hayden's previous injury.
“We can’t rule that out,” Raiders head coach Dennis Allen said earlier Tuesday. “Right now, I don’t know the correlation to it, but we don’t anticipate it being an issue.”
As it turns out, Hayden underwent surgery to clean out scar tissue in his abdomen, and will likely be out of the picture until the Raiders start training camp on Jul. 29. He did participate in the team's May 20 minicamp.
"It's obviously not a good thing," Allen said of Hayden's absence. "From a football standpoint, as a rookie, you need all the reps you can get, and all the work you can get. That kind of sets us back a little bit."
Despite the cornerback's heart injury, the Raiders selected Hayden with the 12th overall pick after they traded down with the Miami Dolphins because Hayden brings impressive game tape to the table. Of all the pass defenders in the 2013 draft class, he has perhaps the best overall ball skills, and tackles with impressive authority for his 5-foot-11, 193-pound frame.
When he ran a 4.33 40-yard dash at Houston's pro day in March, it was thought that Hayden's problems were behind him.
At the scouting combine, Hayden recalled the details of the surgery, which seem to tie into his most recent procedure.
“They rushed me to the hospital and did a scan on my stomach and my chest," he said. "They saw a lot of blood in my abdomen. They thought it was my liver or my spleen.
“The doctor said he was going to have to cut me open. I said, ‘Okay, just don’t mess my abs up.’ So they cut through my sternum and saw the [inferior vena cava], the main vein to your heart, was torn. He put some sutures, in stitched it back together, closed me back up, and here I am today.”
Alonzo Highsmith, senior personnel executive for the Green Bay Packers, said at the time that it's the most unique injury he's ever seen in his job -- "The only people that ever had it aren't alive, and doctors have never seen it."
Indeed, people with tears to their vena cava arteries have a five percent survival rate. Here's hoping that Hayden continues to beat the odds.