“The only reason that COVID is tied to my situation is because I tested positive, or presumptive positive,” Smith told NewsNation affiliate KTXL. “So, this is completely genetic.”
Smith, who is a linebacker for the Minnesota Vikings, said the test led to a bicuspid aortic valve disease diagnosis. His heart was leaking blood and caused it to enlarge to three times the normal size.
“I felt very optimistic about it all,” Smith said. “Surprisingly, I would have much rather been in this position than, let’s say, when I tore my ACL my freshman year of college. Like, I was way worse off mentally than when I found out about this.”
The 23-year-old, who grew up in California and played at Granite Bay High School before going to the University of Southern California, went to Philadelphia last month for open-heart surgery.
“Yeah, they ended up repairing it. They didn’t have to replace it, which was huge for me being able to play football again,” Smith explained.
The Vikings are also paying Smith his full salary for the season.
Just this week, he began workouts at the team facility where he will spend a lot of time becoming a student of the game.
“My goal from this year was to not make it a wasted year, to take a step back and learn more about football, more about what offenses are trying to accomplish, you know, just the next level of knowledge of the game,” Smith said.
The hope is his body and mind will be ready to go when organized team activities start up in April.
“In terms of having a fully functioning heart, I am just so optimistic with how my body is going to feel, my conditioning, my recovery. I’m just excited to see how it’s all going to feel to step on the field again,” he said.
And that day can’t come soon enough for Smith.