This is the second in a series of six columns for The Buffalo News by Janine Talley, wife of Bills great Darryl Talley.
Although many retired players’ seasons in the NFL are a distant memory, the injuries incurred during those seasons persist in their daily lives to the extent that their quality of life is enormously compromised.
The NFL Players Association has recognized this as widespread among retired players, and in 2013 announced an initiative funded by the Trust powered by the NFLPA and spearheaded by Harvard Medical School. The partnership’s goal is to evaluate, diagnose and treat former players so they can enjoy a more productive life.
My husband, Darryl Talley, was very fortunate to have been included in this effort and was evaluated by The Massachusetts General Hospital Brain and Body Clinic for the NFLPA Trust. While we were thrilled that our concerns for Darryl’s health were going to become a priority, we were anxious about what any potential diagnoses could hold for Darryl’s future.
The trip to Boston coincided with the frenzy after the feature article on Darryl’s health and the GoFundMe campaign, and with it playing out that way our anxiety levels were on steroids. Full disclosure: There was limited information on the Trust’s website about the program Darryl was about to participate in and a Google search turned up few results. I wasn’t sure what to think of a program in its infancy. Were they really going to help Darryl or just gather data for a study?
I tried reassuring myself that if the chairmen of two departments within Harvard’s medical school were directing the operation, Darryl was in the best hands possible. The optimist in me wanted to think that Mass General equaled superior care and there was no way they’d jeopardize their reputation. The relentless pessimist kept harping that perhaps we’d get there and be disappointed.
The early morning of Darryl’s initial consultation in Boston began with us meeting a woman in the lobby of a busy building. She would escort us to the Brain and Body’s offices. This woman, Beth Adams, would soon prove to be an invaluable resource and advocate.
Once Beth let the receptionist know that Darryl was there for his consultation, she sat us down and covered what Darryl’s schedule would be and gave us some background on the program’s director, Dr. Ross Zafonte. Among Dr. Zafonte’s many titles, he is chief of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Massachusetts General Hospital. I was aware of Dr. Zafonte through the research I’d done prior to our trip, but I had no idea he’d personally be evaluating Darryl and take the lead on his case. I suddenly felt exponentially better about our visit.
Dr. Zafonte’s thorough assessment excavated every fact that could have possibly played a role in Darryl’s current physical and mental condition. In the span of three full days, Dr. Zafonte had Darryl evaluated and tested by cardiologists, endocrinologists, orthopedists, neurologists, psychiatrists, neuropsychologists and physical therapists, and ordered a battery of imaging.
Beth coordinated the multitude of appointments that ran the vast campus of Mass General and did everything in her power to ensure that his experience was seamless. She made herself available to explain in depth what could be expected with each doctor and specialist seen and when she discovered something not expected about Darryl’s case, she contacted Dr. Zafonte and it was immediately addressed.
The three days were grueling but worth the effort. Dr. Zafonte has assembled an exceptional team. The sincerity in every single physician and specialist’s objective, to identify and treat the condition, is remarkable and to have access to the finest care medicine has to offer is life-altering. Once Darryl was diagnosed and a plan was devised we left Boston full of hope and relieved that we could begin to work on what’s treatable.
Darryl received the attention to his health we’d longed for and he is happy to be contributing to a study that will benefit the game of football and its players for generations. In the end, it was a happy marriage.
A side note to this story: During one of Darryl’s evaluations, I was sitting in the waiting room and made eye contact with a man reading a magazine. He came up to me and asked if the guy I was with was Darryl Talley. I answered yes. What happened next has stayed with me since. The man told me he was from Buffalo and asked if he could speak with me in the hallway. I followed. There he stood with money in his hand and tears in his eyes. He shook. He told me he’d read Darryl’s story and he wanted to help. He also told me he was there with his daughter and explained why. Without disclosing too much, his daughter’s condition is rare.
I have two daughters around this man’s daughter’s age, and at that precise moment my mind shifted from my circumstance with Darryl to how I’d feel if that were my child. It was surreal. What were the odds that someone from Buffalo would be at that office at that moment? I refused the man’s money, but accepted his hug. We both needed it. Buffalo, don’t ever doubt the humanity of the people you produce.
Since then, he’s taken his daughter to meet Darryl at the appearance he made at the Buffalo Auto Show and reached out to me a few days ago via email to ask if Darryl and his daughter could be buddies to help each other when things seem hopeless. Without hesitation I answered with a big, fat yes.