A TALE OF A HEART WARRIOR
T J ‘ S S T O R Y
As a professional football player being able to play the game is such a blessing for me each day and one that I do not take for granted. Often, we
don’t appreciate what we have until it’s almost taken away. I grew up in a family with four brothers who all played high school and college football.
I dreamed about putting on those pads and helmet and playing under the Friday night lights, on Saturday afternoons, and even on to the NFL.
As a 14-year-old freshman at Deer Valley High School in Antioch, California, I was hyped to begin my journey. On the first day of tryouts, my
life changed forever. It was hot, and we were working hard. I was sweating and was having trouble catching my breathing … and then it all went dark.
I left the field in an ambulance and was transported to the first of several hospitals I became familiar with over time. The medical personnel stabilized
me, and I soon breathed again without restriction. But the doctors were stumped as to what caused my problem. It was a year later
before they had an answer. I had a one-in-a-million birth defect where my right coronary artery was positioned between my lungs.
The harder my exertion, the more I breathed, and my lungs would expand and compress the blood flow in the artery.
The doctors gave a now 15-year-old and my family two choices. I could give up any strenuous physical activity for the rest of my life, ending my
dreams of playing football. Or I could undergo risky surgery to correct the problem. With the help of my family, I decided to take a chance,
so I could keep alive my big dream of playing football. On Valentine’s Day 2006, I underwent open-heart surgery at Oakland Children’s Hospital.
I spent two months recuperating in the hospital, part of what became a year-and-a-half-long recovery. It was hard, scary, and challenging,
but I was driven by my big heart and a relentless work ethic to achieve my dream. I did not want to use my birth defect as an excuse to give up.
Instead, it motivated me to work harder and keep my dream alive. I recovered and was finally able to play football as a senior at
De La Salle High School in Concord, California, where the Spartans won a state championship that season. I went to Ohio University,
where I played 50 games for the Bobcats and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sports administration. And my ultimate dream was
achieved when Oakland selected me in the 2014 NFL Draft, beginning a pro career where I’ve worn the uniform of the Raiders, Browns, and Colts.
Frequently, I’m asked, “How did you make it to the NFL?” It came down to three approaches that worked for me, and I believe can be used by
anyone no matter their situation or challenge.
Never allow the problem to deter you from striving for your goal.
PLAY WITH YOUR HEART
Dreams form in the brain, but the heart drives the desire to achieve a dream.
Become a Heart Warrior.
BE A PRO
That’s the dedication to the dream, a willingness to work hard,
staying humble and learning how to improve.
My dream came true and now provides me with a platform to help others. I know how much the support I received got me through tough times.
That’s why I am honored to be a role model to anyone who needs encouragement or education to keep their dreams alive.
That’s what the TJ Carrie Foundation is all about.
Take A Chance,
TJ'S HEART FACTS
Diagnosed with a coronary artery anomaly, causing TJ’s artery to constrict when his lungs expanded and decreasing oxygen circulation during physical activities
Detected in TJ at the age of 14 (fall 2004); occurred during freshman football tryouts at Deer Valley High School in Antioch, CA
This birth defect is described by his doctors as a one-in-a-million case
Took over a year to diagnose the condition
Presented with two treatment options: Avoid physical activity and opt out of high-impact sports or undergo open-heart surgery
Transferred to De La Salle High School in Concord, CA, at the end of freshman year
Open Heart Surgery was performed on February 14, 2006 (age 15) at Oakland Children’s Hospital (currently named UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland)
Dr. Frank Hanley, pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon, Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, performed TJ’s surgery at Oakland Children’s Hospital
Recovery: 2 months in the hospital, plus 18 months of total recovery
Everything happens for a reason, and my heart defect was a symbol that maybe I’m being used for other things. It’s crazy that in 2006 before I had open-heart surgery, doctors told me that the chances of
playing sports would be far too great to achieve. And yet, I’m here living out the dreams that I once
set out to accomplish and encouraging kids who have gone through the same journey as I did that
their dreams can still become a reality.