Michigan’s Grant Newsome: ‘My leg was dying’
Castel Gandolfo, Italy – Michigan offensive lineman Grant Newsome is walking now, and there is a football-shaped gouge in the outside of his right calf.
But he is walking, and that itself is miraculous.
When doctors speak of only minutes to make decisions that could save a life or limb or organ, Newsome understands. There was a 30-minute window that if doctors at the University of Michigan Hospital had not acted fast enough, Newsome very likely would have lost his leg.
"The leg was dying," he said
Newsome was injured on a chop block during the Wisconsin game last fall. He has not spoken publicly about his injury that required a 38-day hospital stay, including the first 10 days he barely remembers in the intensive care unit, and six surgeries in 40 days. But upon his arrival Tuesday in Rome, he shared his story – while sparing a few sensitive details of the injury – with a small group of reporters.
When Newsome joins his teammates Wednesday morning for the general audience with Pope Francis at St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, he is hopeful for a special blessing.
"Hopefully he can lay his hands on my leg and do some more spiritual healing on it,” he said inside La Perla del Lago restaurant, where the team ate overlooking Lake Albano, about 15 miles southeast of Rome.
His knee dislocated, which triggered a domino effect that put Newsome in grave danger.
“They took out part of the muscle from my calf because it was losing blood,” he said. “My leg was dying.”
Many, including many former Michigan offensive linemen – a position group noted for its overall toughness – applauded Newsome’s grit as he waved off the medical cart and walked off the field toward the Michigan Stadium tunnel. Newsome said he knew his mother was at the game and chose to walk off so she wouldn’t worry.
He then took the cart to the locker room. Because the knee was so swollen, doctors initially thought it was a sprained MCL.
“I was kind of thinking, ‘Can I get back for Rutgers?’ I was doing that mental timetable in my head trying to figure out will I be ready for the next game,” Newsome said.
Newsome recalled his “highlight” moment on the field.
“I was trying to get up. I turned over and that’s when I felt my knee relocate, and I was upset because I thought that was my ACL popping,” he said. “I remember telling coach before the play, ‘I know he’s going to cut me; I need to cut him before he cuts me.’
“The play developed and I didn’t think I had enough space to cut him and I thought I was going to clog the hole. And Coach Harbaugh came over (after the injury) and the first thing I said to him was, “I should have cut him,’ and Coach Harbaugh said, ‘Yep, you should have.’ That was probably the highlight of the whole ordeal.”
All kidding aside, he was fortunate Michigan’s orthopedic specialists noticed right away the injury was more serious than a typical knee ligament tear.
“I was fortunate the doctors caught the severity of it early enough and they were able to get me into surgery that night and save my leg,” Newsome said. “Really fortunate with how everything happened.”
How close was he to losing the leg?
“Not going into too much detail, it was minutes,” he said.
Newsome said he has not watched the play.
“For me, it’s over and done with,” said Newsome, who said the Wisconsin player reached out to him. “I never really felt like I was struggling with it emotionally or anything like that. Things happen. Freak injury.”
Athletes often talk about the different paths they can take after an injury.
“I think whenever you go through a traumatic experience like that, you can look at it two ways,” he said. “You can either take pity on yourself and say, ‘Boo-hoo, I went through this hardship.’ But I kind of looked at it the other way. I mean, (I’m) so fortunate. Getting to spend that time in the hospital and see other people who are going through so much worse and being able to go up to Mott and see kids who are battling cancer.”
While he had to learn to lift his leg, then learn to walk, missing the Ohio State game was the most painful part of his rehab.
“That was really the toughest part for me, not the pain or the injury, but just wanting to do something to help,” he said.
Newsome said his knee range is back to where it was before the injury and doctors are pleased with his knee recovery. He is ready to start running and cutting. He said it took some time to accept that playing this season would not happen, but added he should be limited toward the end of this fall and will be ready for the 2018 season.
“I’m confident,” Newsome said. “I’m never going to bet against myself. I was the last one to admit that I probably wouldn’t be ready for this year. I was coming out of the hospital doing the math in my head, ‘Oh, I can probably be back in five, six months the latest.’
“The doctors are happy with the knee and there’s been no lingering effects to the knee. So there’s nothing stopping me once the other part of the injury catches up.”
Newsome said he never wondered if football was still worth his effort.
“The fact that I wasn’t ready to accept that … coming out of surgery, I remember asking, ‘Am I going to be able to walk again?” he said. “Am I going to be able to play again?’”
And that is now a realistic goal.