Cameron Smith can't explain why he's so lucky or how his fate turned a global pandemic into a blessing that likely saved his life and certainly changed it forever.
"I feel great," the 23-year-old Vikings linebacker said Wednesday, three months after successful open heart surgery repaired a birth defect that would have gone undetected if not for COVID-19 testing when the Vikings reported for training camp in July.
"I haven't hit a low point. I haven't struggled. Sometimes I feel that's not fair of me to say because I know some people struggle with open heart surgery. But for me, I just look at God and I say, 'Thank you. I appreciate You giving me this sign.'"
Smith's initial COVID-19 test came back presumptive positive, not definitive enough to trigger protocol for a cardiac work-up. But his other test for COVID-19 antibodies came back positive, meaning he had contracted the virus at some point and would require a closer look at his heart.
"The antibodies (blood) test was optional, and Cameron took it," said Vikings head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman. "Pretty remarkable that sometimes things happen for a reason. It probably saved his life."
When Smith's EKG didn't sound quite right, the Vikings sent him for an echocardiogram, which is an ultrasound of the heart. An MRI a couple of days later confirmed the echocardiogram's discovery of a bicuspid aortic valve defect.
"When Cameron called me with the news, for some reason, I looked down at the phone and said, 'I don't feel good about this call,' " said John Smith, Cameron's father, a retired UPS driver living in Sacramento, Calif. "He said, 'They say I need open heart surgery.' I didn't hear the rest of it because I was totally just hit by a truck at first."
Jon Dorenbos was the Eagles long snapper for 11 seasons. He started in 2006 — after Sugarman left the Eagles to follow Brad Childress to Minnesota — and retired before the 2017 season after suffering an aortic aneurysm.
"I never even met Jon, but when Cameron's story hit the news, Jon called me," Sugarman said. "Jon had a very similar condition and wanted to reach out to Cam because he had such a successful surgery. Jon did so much research on the top heart surgeons in the country for this condition. He just felt obligated to share that information."