When Darryl Clack was in fifth grade, he experienced such a concussion on the football field that he couldn’t remember his parents’ names. It was the start of a lifetime of concussions and, then, a stroke. The former Dallas Cowboy is now writing his memoir Hear My Story Before I Forget and he has started The Darryl Clack Foundation. Darryl Clack and I had a chance to talk about what he’s been through.
First a little background: Darryl Clack was a running back and kickoff returner for the Dallas Cowboys, a Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame inductee, and the first freshman to lead the Arizona State University Sun Devils in rushing in 30 years,
After his fifth grade concussion, Darryl Clack experienced another concussion in high school with blurred vision, memory loss, and headaches and several more in college and during his pro career. Because of the repeated head trauma, he has mild cognitive deficits and neurological damage.
On October 10, 2016, Darryl Clack was rushed to Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside, California, after suffering a stroke and falling into a coma brought on by acquired Thrombotic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (TTP), a rare disorder of the blood-coagulation system, causing extensive microscopic clots to form in the small blood vessels throughout the body. These small blood clots, called thrombi, can damage many organs including the kidneys, heart, and brain.
Plasma therapy was started immediately after TTP was diagnosed. This therapy is a life-saving procedure where antibodies (proteins) are removed from the blood that damaged his ADAMTS13 enzyme. Then, the blood is put back into him through an IV line inserted into one of his blood vessels. On October 27, 2016, he was transferred to The Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona where he continues to receive plasma therapy. After 2 1/2 months of intensive treatment, on December 16, 2016, Darryl Clack was discharged from the Mayo Clinic however, he remains an outpatient and receives plasma therapy twice per week. In addition to TTP, in July 2016, he was diagnosed with stage one dementia, due to the many hits to the head from football.
Does Clack Regret His Career?
Here is my interview with former Dallas Cowboy, Darryl Clack:
Darryl Clack, thank you for this interview. Did anyone tell you to stop playing football at any point in your life?
I was never told the risks. From 10 years old until pro ball I was never informed by a coach, trainer or doctor that playing football would have a negative effect on me mentally or physically.
What about the Dallas Cowboys – were you given any medical information on the subject or checked on as you went through the seasons?
During my Dallas Cowboy years, we were never given any information. We were only checked on during our annual physical or if we sustained some type of injury during practice or a game, but never checked for neurological issues.
Take me back to the first time you couldn’t remember your parents’ names. That must’ve been scary. What did you do to get diagnosed?
Although I’ve had many concussions and could not remember many things, in fifth grade, I received my first concussion. There was no diagnosis to determine if there was neurological damage. However, the trainer instructed my mom what to do as far as waking me up every couple of hours to make sure I was okay, and to take me to the emergency room if I had any headaches or wasn’t responding in a normal way. During that time period, concussions were not a hot topic, nor was there information provided to learn more about neurological issues.
What were you doing when the stroke happened last year and can you remember what you felt like when you went through this? Scary stuff!
I was on vacation with my family at lunch. My left arm became numb, my vision was blurred, my speech was slurred, and I wasn’t responding to normal conversations with my family. I could feel myself blacking out and not being able to stay awake. My wife called for an ambulance, they came and took my vitals and realized that I was having a stroke and rushed me to the hospital. I remember being in the ambulance and telling them I feel sick, then I blacked out. I was in a coma for two days and when I awoke the doctors told me that I had a stroke that came on by TTP (Thrombotic Thrombocytopenic Purpura) that was acquired. They were able to determine my platelet count was around 10,000 and the minimum count should be 150,000. It was very scary especially losing my short-term memory for a while and learning how to speak correctly again. I also had numbness in my right leg (neuropathy) caused by the stroke. It was like I had to start my life over.
Do you still receive plasma therapy? What should my readers know about this?
Yes, I still receive plasma therapy. Plasma Therapy Exchange is a patient procedure involving the separation and removal of the plasma from the blood in order to remove a disease substance circulating in the plasma. The red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets are returned to my body, along with a prescribed replacement fluid.
There’s so much that you’re going through. TTP, diagnosed with first-stage dementia, the stroke. Shouldn’t we just end football?
Absolutely not. Football should never end. I love the game and it’s a great game. The awareness as it relates to football and concussions is growing so this is a great thing. To reduce concussions I would suggest that the youth not play contact football only because their brains are still developing and the less head trauma the better for the athletes as their football careers continue. I believe they should wait until high school to start contact football because their brain cells should be better developed and at that age, they should have a better understanding—based off of their skill set—as to how not to use their head during contact. Besides they can still learn the skills without contact.
I love football and I know many people do, of course. So what should we do – better equipment? Less time playing?
There should definitely be better equipment such as helmets, and limit the amount of contact during practice. I believe this would decrease the amount of head trauma sustained.
I love your title of your book – Hear My Story Before I Forget – how did you think of it?
My book title came about because I realize that even though I have first-stage dementia it could increase, and I need to tell my story to help bring awareness to young athletes and their families about my experiences sustaining to head trauma and TTP. The book will take you on my journey of learning about my diagnosis, during the stages and treatments I’m going through to get better.
What’s the most important thing to know about your Darryl Clack Foundation?
My foundation will be based on informing anyone who may need help in identifying the symptoms of dementia and TTP and it will be a resource to help people understand the illnesses as well as direct them on how to get help for treatment.
Do you regret your career?
Not at all. I love the game of football. I loved every bit of playing the game. It has taught me so many things such as teamwork, dedication, hard work, leadership, and passion, and I have lifelong friendships with my teammates. These are just a few of many great things that came out of me playing football. It’s a great game.
Thanks Darryl! If you’re interested in the Darryl Clack story, check out his website and pre-order his book.
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