In an era where things that happened just a couple of days ago feel like they happened a month ago, his story has, sadly, fallen off the radar of most NFL followers. But Chicago Bears’ tight end Zach Miller, who suffered a devastating leg injury on Oct. 29 against the New Orleans Saints, still has a long road ahead of him in terms of recovery.
Miller’s injury that day was so bad that he could have lost his leg had medical personnel not responded as quickly as they did. The 33-year old sat down with Jeff Joniak, the Bears’ play-by-play announcer, for an interview that the team posted online on Friday, and recounts the moment of his injury and the weeks that have followed.
As Miller came down with what he believed was a 25-yard touchdown catch with just under six minutes to play in the third quarter, he felt something in his left leg.
“When I secured it, I felt my leg pop,” Miller said. “I wasn’t sure it was that bad. I knew I had an injury, but in my mind, it was just, ‘hold onto the ball as long as you can.’ I was sitting there on the ground and I remember taking it and setting it down, (thinking) ‘that’s got to be long enough.'”
(Adding insult to literal injury, after review, officials took away the touchdown, saying Miller didn’t “complete” the catch.)
Miller recalled that as he lay on the field in the right corner of the end zone in the Superdome, he told the team’s head trainer, Nate Breske, “my knee’s gone, bro,” but said he was somehow calm.
"I just remember telling the doc, 'Save my leg, please.'"
Zach Miller shares his emotional story, daily motivation and inspirational outlook. pic.twitter.com/CVbd5BvAeb
— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) December 8, 2017
Sid Dreyer, the Bears’ assistant trainer, accompanied Miller in the ambulance and his instruction that Miller be brought to University Medical Center New Orleans, which has a Level I trauma center, instead of a second hospital in the city likely saved Miller’s leg.
“Sid’s my hero. Saved my leg,” Miller said.
Asked what he was thinking through those frantic moments, Miller said, “I just remember telling the doc, ‘save my leg, please.'” He had to undergo urgent vascular surgery to repair a torn popliteal artery; if that surgery does not happen quickly, it can lead to more extensive damage, including loss of limb.
The first couple days after his injury were the hardest, Miller said, as he came to grips with his injury.
“Then once I realized, alright, wondering about that, wondering why, the what ifs, aren’t going to help, got to be able to accept it, I was good,” he said.
Miller has come to know a young football player in California, Alex Ruiz, who suffered a similar injury during a game in early October but didn’t receive the same level of care; too much time passed before Ruiz was properly diagnosed and then treated. Ultimately, the quarterback at Linfield Christian in Temecula, Calif. opted to have his foot amputated and move forward.
“That’s a kid who I draw inspiration from because his outlook on his life and his future is unbelieveable,” Miller said.
“That could be me,” he added, choking up. “I could very easily, if I didn’t have the care that I had, all that stuff, I could very easily be in his shoes and I feel bad for him. A little bit of guilt, but he helps me. He’s a special kid. …He gets me through every day. He told me he’s not going to let it ruin his life, which is uplifting. If he can accept that, you can really get through anything.”
Miller goes on to praise his wife, Kristen, the Bears fans from around the country and around the world who have reached out to him to offer support, and George and Barb McCaskey, the team owners. Miller said George McCaskey was with him in the New Orleans hospital intensive care unit for three days, flew back to Chicago, then returned to his Louisiana bedside a couple of days later.
When he gets to return to the Bears’ Halas Hall facility, Miller said he has a lot of hugs to give out, and insisted that he did make that touchdown catch.