Football player traded NFL dreams for a new purpose after blood clot

By Jodi Helmer, American Heart Association News

Kristoffer Doura was at an NFL training camp when a blood clot in his leg caused him to collapse on the field. (Photo courtesy of Kristoffer Doura)
Kristoffer Doura was at an NFL training camp when a blood clot in his leg caused him to collapse on the field. (Photo courtesy of Kristoffer Doura)

The sun was blazing and Kristoffer Doura had just finished three rounds of "gassers," sprinting the length of the football field as part of training camp for the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers.

As Doura prepared for the final round of the conditioning drill, his head throbbed, his muscles ached, his heart raced and he could barely breathe. But the 6-foot-7, 350-pound offensive lineman was trying to earn a spot on the roster and that meant giving his all even though he wasn't feeling his best.

The whistle blew and Doura started running. He made it 70 yards before collapsing. Medics rushed out, loaded him on a stretcher and raced him to the hospital.

In the emergency room, doctors called Doura's mom, Ninon Doura, and explained the situation: Her then-22-year-old son had experienced such severe dehydration that he developed a blood clot in his left leg. There were two options: amputate his leg or attempt a risky surgery to remove the clot.

"I couldn't digest what the doctors were telling me," she said. "How could he have been so serious that they wanted to amputate his leg?"

But Ninon knew her son: He was young and strong and would want to keep his leg. Despite the risks, she told the doctors to remove the clot and save his leg – and then she hung up the phone and booked a flight from Miami to be with Kristoffer when he came out of surgery.

"When I saw him in the hospital bed, I didn't even recognize him," Ninon said. "All I could do was hold his hand and tell him it would be OK."

When Kristoffer woke up the next morning, he learned about the extent of the damage to his leg – but that was not the most shocking revelation: Doctors said his heart stopped beating during the operation and it took a shock from a defibrillator to restart it.

There were other issues, too. In the process of removing the blood clot, Kristoffer lost significant amounts of blood, requiring multiple blood transfusions. Dehydration also led to kidney failure.

Kristoffer spent three months in the hospital. He lost 70 pounds and – after undergoing 16 surgeries and skin grafts to repair his leg – came away with scars extending from his left calf to his glutes. His size and muscle mass made the surgeries more complicated.

"They needed to graft so much extra skin from different parts of my body to patch up the surgical sites," he said.

Kristoffer channeled the same determination he showed in football to his recovery. When he was released from the hospital, Kristoffer returned to Miami with his family and continued physical therapy.

He began walking again eight months after surgery. But it was 18 months before he regained most of his strength.

"The doctor said I could go back and play football," Kristoffer said, but "it wasn't worth putting my life at risk for a game."

The episode occurred in 2011. He still has challenges with balance, stamina and regulating his body temperature. Having had so many surgeries already, he opted against doing any reconstruction of his leg.

"An entire chunk of my calf is gone," he said. "If I ever wear shorts, it looks like I jumped into the ocean and had a tussle with a white shark."

Scars and all, his mom is thrilled with how things turned out.

"I thank God for allowing Kristoffer to get through this situation and give Him the glory and favor to determine his destiny," Ninon said.

Kristoffer Doura (center) with his mom, Ninon (right) and his sister, Caroline. (Photo courtesy of Kristoffer Doura)
Kristoffer Doura (center) with his mom, Ninon (right) and his sister, Caroline. (Photo courtesy of Kristoffer Doura)

Now, Kristoffer is a financial advisor in Coral Gables, Florida, and has written a best-selling book about nonprofit organizations.

"Today, if I'm pushing myself, I'm pushing myself for progression, not to prove a point; there's a sense of balance," he said. "I'm no longer a pro athlete with the mindset of being unstoppable. I'm using my talents to be philanthropic, to share my story of what my body went through to leave a legacy and make a difference."

Stories From the Heart chronicles the inspiring journeys of heart disease and stroke survivors, caregivers and advocates.

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