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Cardinals aide Freddie Kitchens: 'Football did save my life'

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By Bill Bradley, contributing editor

According to the odds, Freddie Kitchens shouldn't be alive. The Arizona Cardinals' assistant coach is lucky he was on the football field coaching the quarterbacks on June 4.

Because of the quarterbacks' quick thinking, because of the proximity to the team's medical staff and because he had one of the country's best heart surgeons waiting, Kitchens is back on the sideline two months after an aortic dissection.

"If it had happened anywhere else," Kitchens told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, "I probably would have just taken a nap and tried to sleep it off and never woke up."

Instead, Kitchens was having emergency surgery at Arizona Heart Hospital hours after the episode, and he was saved by Dr. Andrew Goldstein.

Kitchens started feeling odd when he jogged across the field before the start of a minicamp workout. He said he felt two pops in his chest and his vision went blurry.

"He kind of jokingly asked, 'What's a heart attack feel like?' " Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer said.

Kitchens said one leg then went numb, and he was rushed to the trainers' room, where Cardinals head athletic trainer Tom Reed checked out the coach.

"I honestly had no idea what was going on other than, 'He needs to go somewhere where he's got more people around him,' " Reed said.

Kitchens was rushed to the nearest hospital, Chandler Medical Center, where it was determined he needed to be airlifted to the Arizona Heart Hospital for emergency surgery to keep him from bleeding to death.

Goldstein, a renowned heart surgeon, performed the surgery. He also confirmed it wasn't a heart attack that struck Kitchens. It was an aortic dissection caused by an aneurysm in Kitchens' heart.

"Aortic dissection, generally speaking, is not that common," said Dr. Goldstein, who noted the mortality rate for this condition is 80 percent. "In Freddie's case, the entire aorta tore.

"Every hour you wait, the mortality (rate) goes higher and higher. The majority of people who have it die of this disease, but if they can get to surgery soon enough, then we can do something to help them out."

The surgery lasted 10 hours.

"It was like having my son in there," said Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, who coached Kitchens when he played quarterback at the University of Alabama. "It was really tough."

Now Kitchens is back coaching those quarterbacks again. He has been given a clean bill of health by Dr. Goldstein and is working with him to raise awareness of the condition, which affects families with a history of aneurysms.

"I'm a firm believer that it had to have happened when it did at the start of practice," Kitchens said. "Maybe that's why I'm still here. In theory, football did save my life."

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