Taking advantage of the second day of free cardiac screenings for former NFL players may have saved Andy Livingston’s life.
The 61-year-old Gilbert resident and former Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints running back was taken Monday afternoon to Mayo Clinic Hospital after his blood pressure and blood sugar count were higher than normal during screenings at the Mayo Clinic family medicine outpatient facility in north Scottsdale.
“I have been blessed today,” said Livingston from the hospital emergency room.
“I went for a routine test and found some abnormalities that needed to be addressed. I have diabetes and those numbers were out of whack,” he said. “They gave me insulin and my blood sugar went down from 316 (80 to 120 is considered normal).
“My blood pressure is getting back to normal, although it was up to 250 and doctors said that was dangerous. I’ve had problems with it in the past. They did a lot of blood work (Monday) and gave me medicine and I feel fine now.
“I am really grateful that an entity like the NFL Players Association, Mayo Clinic and Dr. Archie Roberts provided these tests for dinosaurs like us,” he said. “Dr. Roberts even rode in the ambulance with me. These people really care about us.”
Roberts, a former quarterback for the Miami Dolphins when they were in the American Football League, as well as the Cleveland Browns, is founder and director of the New Jersey-based Living Heart Foundation.
His group, with help from Mayo Clinic personnel and underwriting by the players association, provided testing that would cost $3,000 to $5,000, according to Bob Reed, a former halfback with the Minnesota Vikings and vice president of the association’s Arizona chapter.
Over two days, 63 former players were tested, bringing the number to nearly 850 during 14 screenings throughout the country.
Tests include an electrocardiogram, carotid and cardiac ultrasound, lung function study, body composition analysis, blood testing and sleep apnea assessment.
The program is also part of an ongoing group study to determine if certain subgroups of former NFL players have a shortened life span compared to the general population of males matched for age and race.
Among other former players participating were ex-Buffalo Bills No. 1 draft pick J.D. Hill, ex-Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks quarterback Dave Krieg, former Oakland Raiders defensive end Nolan Harrison, and ex-Buffalo Bills defensive back Eric Smedley.
“For a lot of these players, they haven’t had this type of screening since their preseason physicals when they were active players,” said Roberts, a cardiovascular surgeon for 13 years who formed his foundation after suffering a stroke during a speech to other doctors in 1997.
“I love that we’re able to give back and help these guys. It’s really like a family. Some of these players know each other and they’re together as a group together again. This is a continuation of a lifestyle that was part of what they used to do.”
Roberts said data of the first 500 players tested found that offensive and defensive linemen, generally the larger players, have the highest cardiovascular risk.
Abnormally high body mass, prevalent among highly competitive football players, can result in serious medical disorders leading to high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke, Roberts said.
“A percentage of these guys have enlarged heart size,” he said. “Many have hearts that sort of reset to normal after their playing careers, but some retain a larger heart size. Those are the people we want to help.”
Reed, who will be the players association’s Arizona chapter president next year, said former NFL players who live in the Valley and didn’t know about this week’s screenings should call (602) 750-8046.