From deathbed to first-rounder

From deathbed to first-rounder
April 24, 2013, 9:00 pm
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Draft Central: D.J. Hayden profile

“Ice cold, ice cold. The coldest skin I’ve ever touched that was alive,” said paramedic Bobby Delgado.

The chances of D.J. Hayden making it to the NFL were slim. The chances of him surviving the injury that he suffered at practice during his senior season at the University of Houston were worse. This week he’s about to be selected in the NFL Draft, possibly as high as the first round, and beat the odds for the second time in six months.

Hayden’s injury occurred on Nov. 6, when he collided with a teammate at practice. He needed emergency surgery for a tear of the inferior vena cava, the large vein that carries blood from the lower half of the body to the heart. It’s an injury that Hayden was told is 95 percent fatal.

“When we got to the locker room we found D.J,” paramedic Kevin Zigal said. “Basically we knew it was internal injuries and there was nothing we could do. We took him to Herman Hospital and everyone was waiting for us. They took X-rays right there in the room and rushed him to the OR for surgery.”

On Tuesday, Hayden met with the first responders who saved his life. It was the first time Hayden had a chance to speak or see them since they saved his life back in November. It was an emotional scene at Fire Station 18 when Hayden and his mother, Tori, arrived to personally thank paramedics Zigal and Delgado.

“Thank you so much for saving my son’s life,” Tori Hayden said to Delgado as she fought back tears. “Words just cannot express the way I’m feeling right now, but thank you very much."

“I just want to thank them for doing their job so good,” Hayden said. “I just want to say thank you for saving my life and I’m just really appreciative of them. Obviously, God had a reason for them to be here. I’m just really happy to be here, I really am, I just really appreciate you guys. I really do.”

On Tuesday, the University of Houston released the video of Hayden’s injury for the first time since it happened. Months back while Hayden sat there in his hospital room after surgery, watching the replay of the injury a couple hundred times, he wasn’t sure if he would ever play football again.

“The first couple days I was really depressed,” Hayden said. “I thought I’d never play football again. But the doctor told me after three or four months I should be able to play again. I was like, ‘OK. I have hope.’ But there was always doubt in my mind. I was questioning myself, ‘Why did this happen to me?’ I even questioned God because I was in a whole different state of mind.”

Hayden is now rated as the top cornerback in the draft according the Mike Mayock, one of the country’s most trusted draft experts, and could go in the first round.

“I have a whole new outlook on life,” Hayden said. “All the stuff I took for granted, I don’t take for granted anymore, whether it’s family, friends, God – I’m cherishing every moment because you never know when your time is up.”