Amputation `Toll To Be Paid'
Former football star Curt Marsh recently had his right ankle and foot amputated as a result of injuries he suffered during his playing career with the University of Washington Huskies and Los Angeles Raiders. Now, recuperating at Harborview Medical Center, he has time to reflect on all he did and all he won. -----------------------------------------------------------------
Curt Marsh had a glorious football career.
He earned All-America honors at Snohomish High School and the University of Washington, where he played on the Huskies' 1978 and 1981 Rose Bowl teams. He was drafted in the first round by the Los Angeles Raiders in 1981 and immediately took the starting job from future NFL Hall of Famer Gene Upshaw. And he was a key player when the Raiders won the Super Bowl after the 1983 season.
But Marsh, 35, is now recuperating at Harborview Medical Center after the amputation of his right ankle and foot as a result of injuries he suffered as an offensive lineman. And he has had time to reflect on all he did and all he won.
"There is a toll that has to be paid," Marsh said yesterday.
Marsh had 13 hours of surgery Sept. 21. In addition to the amputation, microsurgery was performed to graft blood vessels from his leg to his right hip to treat a condition similar to the one that led two-sport star Bo Jackson, a former teammate of Marsh's, to receive an artificial hip implant.
Like most NFL players, Marsh's career was filled with injuries.
He had back surgery while at the UW, and again while with the Raiders.
During his pro career he had a couple of hernia operations and suffered a fractured upper arm and a fractured hand. More relevant to his current condition, bone chips were removed from his ankle several times, and he was hospitalized when a staph infection flared in the ankle.
Marsh says he received pain-killing shots in his ankle during the final two of his seven NFL seasons. After he retired and moved back to Snohomish following the 1987 season, he was unable to walk normally or play with his three children.
The injections he had received, continued use of the joint and his weight - 300-plus pounds - damaged the surface of the bones and created circulation problems over the years, he said. Eventually, he went to Dr. Sigvard Hansen, a nationally respected specialist, who tried to fuse the bones in the ankle.
"After the third attempt failed, the only option was amputation," Marsh said.
Marsh is one of several Raiders who are mentioned prominently in a new book written by Dr. Rob Huizenga, a former physician for the Raiders, titled "You're Okay, It's Just A Bruise" (St. Martin's Press, New York), in which Huizenga examines the ethical dilemma of working as a team doctor.
Marsh doesn't blame Huizenga, the team's internist, for his plight. He said the win-at-any-cost philosophy of Raiders owner Al Davis created an atmosphere where players were expected to perform when injured. Marsh and Huizenga said Dr. Robert Rosenfeld - the team's orthopedist, who treated bone and joint injuries - bypassed the coaching staff and reported directly to Davis.
Al LoCasale, Davis' executive assistant, said the team was aware of Marsh's amputation but declined to comment on the charge that the Raiders' "Just Win, Baby" ethic played a role in it.
In his book, Huizenga accuses Rosenfeld, who died in January, of deliberately hiding the seriousness of injuries to some players, which led Huizenga to resign his position.
Huizenga chronicles Marsh's attempt one season to earn a $20,000 bonus offered by Davis if Marsh played in the Raiders' first three games. In the opener, he suffered a back injury so painful he had to spend 90 minutes in the sauna before each of the next week's practices just so he could bend over and get in his stance. He hid the injury from the team.
In the second game, Marsh suffered knee and ankle injuries in the first half and dislocated a finger in the second. After that game, he told the team's trainers to tell Davis only about his finger.
But he never collected the bonus. In films of practices leading up to the third game, Marsh was moving so poorly his coaches got wise and placed him on injured reserve two days before the game.
"If I could change one thing, I would have gotten second opinions on everything," Marsh said. "There were options available to me that I didn't take advantage of. I knew that (going outside the team for medical information) would upset people in the front office.
"I'm upset because of how my injuries have affected my (relationship with my) kids."
Marsh, who works as coordinator of youth programs for the city of Everett, said it's important that youngsters know all of the risks involved in playing sports like football at the collegiate and professional levels.
"In sports today, there is so much pressure to be the winner instead of being a winner simply by doing your best," he said. "If we make winning our only goal, that just makes more losers."
Marsh said he's had phone calls from many members of the Raider family, including current Coach Art Shell and former Raider teammates Marcus Allen, Howie Long and Matt Millen. He said former Husky teammate Toussaint Tyler spent two days at his bedside. He's also received many cards and letters.
Marsh will be hospitalized for at least another week, after which he'll be fitted with a prosthesis and begin a yearlong rehabilitation program.
Marsh, whose sense of humor is as large as his massive body, said he's focusing on a pain-free future that will allow him to play with his three children - sons Jake, 12, and C.J., 10, and daughter Jillian, 5.
He's especially excited about the basketball court he, his wife, Pam, their children and a neighbor built this summer in the back yard of his home in Snohomish. He said his recent surgery has had two benefits in addition to ending his pain.
"First, it's brought my family closer together," Marsh said. "And I'll be able to park next to the front door of the grocery store, which is an offensive lineman's dream."
If he could go back and do it all over, would he still follow the path that led to his room at Harborview?
"I've thought about that a lot as I lie here," Marsh said. "Was it worth it? No. Would I do it over again? Probably."
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